It’s not all glam­our, frocks and smiles – there’s heartache

The Sunday Independent - - NEWS -

GOR­GEOUS gowns, im­mac­u­late hair and skin: all the won­der­ful and im­pres­sive things to see at a beauty pageant.

Many young women as­pire to be on stage and work to­wards beauty pageant ti­tles. But be­neath all the glam­our and “per­fect” im­age, some con­tes­tants are deal­ing with emo­tional is­sues.

Michelle Bekker, 35, is one of the 25 fi­nal­ists vy­ing for the Tammy Tay­lor Mrs South Africa ti­tle. She is a beauty queen who knows what it is like to be ad­mired by the world, while also hav­ing faced ag­o­nis­ing sit­u­a­tions.

In 2006, her hus­band, Jaco Bekker, was di­ag­nosed with melanoma (can­cer of the skin). Last year, she lost her sis­ter to lung can­cer.

Speak­ing in Cape Town re­cently dur­ing a fund-rais­ing event for the Can­cer As­so­ci­a­tion of SA (Cansa), Bekker de­scribed that pe­riod as one of her “tough­est jour­neys” in life.

Bekker is re­quired to raise aware­ness and raise funds for Cansa – the main ben­e­fi­ciary of Tammy Tay­lor Mrs South Africa.

She says since her hus­band’s di­ag­no­sis, can­cer has been very close to her heart.

It was 11 years ago when he went to the doc­tor to have his rou­tine check-up when they dis­cov­ered the melanoma.

“My hus­band was per­fectly healthy and we did not see that com­ing.”

She says jug­gling fam­ily, man­ag­ing an events com­pany, and deal­ing with a sick hus­band was chal­leng­ing but it made her stronger and ap­pre­ci­ate life more.

Bekker’s hus­band, who prefers to call him­self a can­cer vic­tor rather than a sur­vivor, ad­mit­ted that ac­cept­ing the news that he had can­cer was dif­fi­cult.

“At first, I wanted to hide it be­cause I couldn’t bring my­self to telling ev­ery­one. But af­ter re­al­is­ing that it was too much of a se­cret to keep I told peo­ple and spoke about it. It gave me lib­erty and gave my fam­ily, friends and col­leagues the op­por­tu­nity to sup­port me,” he said.

He has been in re­mis­sion for 11 years.

“Since my di­ag­no­sis we… as a fam­ily try to live to the fullest as to­mor­row is not guar­an­teed to any­one. We ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery mo­ment we have to­gether… our time to laugh and play to­gether,” he said.

With only two months left be­fore Mrs South Africa is crowned in Novem­ber, Bekker con­tin­ues to in­spire as­pir­ing beauty queens and fam­i­lies af­fected by can­cer.

“One can never be pre­pared to hear a fam­ily mem­ber, a friend or even if it’s just some­one they know.

“When my sis­ter was also di­ag­nosed with lung can­cer, she fought for a few months but lost the bat­tle in Novem­ber, leav­ing two beau­ti­ful kids be­hind and our fam­ily shat­tered,” she said.

Cansa says this year’s pro­ceeds will go to­wards the pur­chase of two new Fo­toFin­ders (a mole-map­ping der­matoscopy de­vice for ex­am­in­ing moles and spots).

Last year, the fi­nal­ists raised more than R1 mil­lion.

Cansa’s Mar­ica Bas­son said: “South Africa has the sec­ond high­est in­ci­dence of skin can­cer in the world af­ter Aus­tralia.

“At least 20 000 South Africans are di­ag­nosed an­nu­ally with non-melanoma skin can­cers, and about 1 500 are di­ag­nosed with melanoma,” she added.

She ad­vised peo­ple to do an­nual der­ma­tol­ogy tests so that skin can­cer could be de­tected early.

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