Fighting cancer with hope
An Bakkes’ story is set to change the lives of mothers facing the trauma of a cancer diagnosis.
Diagnosed during first pregnancy
At the age of 34, An was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma metastatic cancer. She was pregnant with her first child. The shock of the diagnosis was one that her doctor couldn’t bear to give her when he first found out.
“My doctor postponed my appointment until the end of the weekend as he didn’t know how to tell a pregnant woman she has Stage 4 cancer,” An recalls.
She went through the remaining months of her pregnancy and gave birth to a healthy boy, Luca, 27 weeks later. It was a huge relief that he was born cancer-free.
“When I was diagnosed, I was scared all the time,” says An. “I was anxious, terrified and worried. I’m a control freak and this took the control out of my hands.”
Replay of events
However, for An, her journey only just begun. Two years later, when she was pregnant with her second child, her cancer recurred.
“It was as if I was watching my own movie, again,” she explains. “I remember the absolute shock I felt. How I sat and waited for blood test results while the rest of the world carried on as normal. Living with cancer was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
Because An was pregnant when she received both her diagnoses, she could not receive any oncology treatment while she carried her children to term.
So, while she was pregnant, the cancer was removed through a series of skin scrapes and surgical operations at Cancercare’s Constantiaberg Oncology Unit.
Throughout her second pregnancy and the arduous cancer treatments, An’s husband, Tiaan, and her friends provided her with incredible support. They were there through every moment and shared her joy when Emma was born, also cancer-free.
“The same nursing sister supported me through Luca’s birth and she was there for me again with Emma,” adds An. “We were all so happy to hear the news that both my children weren’t affected by my cancer.”
Throughout both diagnoses, An battled with anxiety and fear. Understandable emotions considering what she was going through and the terrible timing. But instead of enduring her anxiety, she developed a model that would help other people overcome their fear.
“During my second diagnosis, I did my MPhil in Business Coaching and used anxiety as the theme for my thesis,” explains An. “I survived cancer twice and learned so much that it was important for me to share my learnings with other people who could benefit from it.”
An wrote a book Embracing Anxiety: Coming back with Hope. It details her story and provides tools and insights to overcome fears. Every chapter is designed to provide practical examples that help readers face their fears and anxieties in their daily lives.
Seven years’ cancer-free
On 7 April 2018, An will celebrate seven years of being cancer-free. When Emma was three months old, the last of the cancer was removed and she has remained clear ever since.
“Cancer is not a death sentence,” she says. “You must find hope in every situation and be grateful for everything you have. My research has shown that people who live a life of gratitude and grace have a 75% chance of healing completely.”
Today An is grateful for her healthy children, a new life, a fresh understanding of cancer and its impact on other people’s lives, her wonderful husband and family, and her ability to use her story to help others overcome their fears.
“I remember holding Emma in my hands, looking at her and wondering how I was going to overcome this second round of cancer, when Luca came running into the ward,” An recalls. “He wasn’t supposed to be there! But in he ran, with joy all over his face and I knew in that moment that he also brought hope. My healthy two-year old son brought me the hope I needed to keep going.”