“You will go through all this, nobody can make decisions for you”Ani Haykuni, The Reborn

“After cancer, I feel like I was reborn. An Ani was created who knows her way, her goal, her mission better and has a better esteem of her energy, power and abilities,” says Ani Haykuni and smiles.

Three years ago, Ani was diagnosed with breast cancer but she did not fall into despair, she says. She did not know any anxiety, fear, stress. Ani greeted cancer with a big smile, challenged the disease with her usual positivity, crazy and brave steps.

“Now that I look back, I see all my treatment in bright colors: blue, red, yellow, green… Honestly, I did not have a black line there,” Ani says.

Ani had been accepted to Oxford University, Business Administration, but had to put off her studies by one year due to the disease. When doctors informed her that she had cancer, Ani immediately started considering the options for treatment. The family discussed, made a decision on the next steps, and they started the treatment immediately.

“My family, my friends stood by me, and it was not a tragedy, we realized that we had come across a very serious problem. The tumor was almost in the third stage, 4-6 cm (1.5-2.3 inches) in size but we were not crying, we were not in despair. I understood how serious the problem was but I was not going to give up and live a tragedy. I was always in good mood, I was very positive and, I think, this is the secret, this was my key to solving this difficult problem, and I was cured,” Ani tells.

Chemotherapy, medicine, two surgeries, post-surgical care. Ani has gone through all these stages and continues to go through this, expecting only a positive turn from her life.

When hair fell off after chemotherapy, she took it as a new look, Ani says.

“I thought being hairless is something temporary. I loved that style. I remember one day I went to hospital for chemo and there were several women in the same room for chemo. I saw them crying. I took off my hat and said look, I don’t have hair either, I am ill just like you but there is no need to be so upset because crying will not change anything anyway. I said you will have no other chance to be hairless, your hair will grow back and this is your only option and chance to see yourselves without hair,” Ani tells and laughs.

She says that in Armenia cancer is perceived as a verdict. There is a stereotyped attitude to people with cancer. “They think if a person has cancer, that’s the end, they are dying, nothing good will ever happen to them. I remember when I had just been diagnosed, in Lusakert where I lived, people talked that my condition is so bad that I must die. Even when they met me and my family in the street, they did not know what to say, how to behave. But this was the consequence of unawareness, I think,” Ani says.

During the treatment, she never paid attention to people’s looks and reactions but during the treatment she already undertook steps against stereotype, fears and misperception.

“One day I went to the bank for something. Then I had no hair, my eyebrows and eyelashes had fallen off, and I didn’t wear any makeup. I was waiting in the back, and I remember that one of the bank officers saw me, looked at me long and did not come up to me. This was not a stress for me but I thought that perhaps the reason why they didn’t come close to me was my looks. I understood that if this is happening to me, this is happening to others too. In Armenia people do not know how to interact with, how to talk to people with cancer,” Ani says.

Ani is implementing with her friends an idea that came to her after this incident. She offers professional photographers to take her photos the way she looks, without hair.

by Emma Grigoryan

“The purpose of this project is to crash the stereotypes about cancer. I started sharing those photos with my quotes on social networks, I wanted to show people that if you have cancer, it is not the end of the world, life goes on,” Ani says.

After learning about her story, hundreds of people started writing to Ani to get acquainted with her, as well as to offer their help and support.

“Before I found out about my cancer, I had asked myself from time to time whether the life that I am living has a meaning or not, what will happen when I die, what will change. And when I learned my diagnosis and started the treatment, then a fundraising campaign was organized, I got the answer to my question. I understood that my life had not been useless, everyone, even people whom I met for at least a minute, started reacting, just writing to me, inquiring, passing their warmth to me,” Ani says.

In that period people with cancer started writing to her, just for a chat or for some psychological support. Ani immediately responded to their requests and met with different people with cancer a few times a week and talked to them.

“There was a woman who stopped treatment because she did not believe she would get over, she was in a bad psychological state. After talking to that woman on telephone for 3 hours I was able to persuade her to continue treatment, and now she is quite well,” Ani says.

A forest engineer by training, a graduate of Armenian National Agrarian University, then New York State University, Ani says she hated to step back or lose when she came across difficulties back in school and college.

“I had to resolve [the problem], go through all the way, whatever the hardship. Even if I failed, I had to try again to resolve every problem that I ran into. I never had the approach that if something is difficult, I cannot do it, or if someone failed, I will also fail. I never accepted that identification with others. My life is my life, and there is no such phrase as “it’s not doable”. I always thought that a lot depends on me and I did everything possible to succeed,” Ani says.

She admits that friends and family helped her a lot on the way to overcoming cancer but she made all the decisions herself.

“People beside you are always willing to help, they want to do something for you but YOU are the person who will go through all that. You see, you feel all that, YOU go through all that, YOU know your power, your abilities, and nobody can make decisions for you. They do not have such control over the situation as you do, they can inspire you, treat you well, as my friends always did, made surprises to me, they were always supporting me, ALWAYS, but I knew I would be going through all this,” Ani says.

After a surgery in Armenia in 2016 she established Ani Haykuni Cancer Treatment Support Foundation. Then she moved to England and studied in Oxford University for a year. Ani continued treatment in England along with her studies.

The foundation she established supports treatment of cancer in adults in need who are citizens of Armenia and are getting treatment in Armenia. A lot of people apply to the Foundation for information and for financial assistance. 18 people have already received financial assistance for cancer treatment.

“After cancer I realized what my mission was. I feel good when I help people, I feel good when I know that my work is addressing a big problem, that my living helps other people, that my life has a value, that I can make a change,” Ani concludes.

  • story by Lilit Arakelyan
  • photos by Emma Grigoryan

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