All students at Oxford Saïd have overcome obstacles on their journey to the School, but Ani’s experience has been exceptional.
An Armenian with a background in Environmental Sciences and Organisational Management, her passion for entrepreneurship led her to apply to the Oxford Saïd MBA. After passing the admissions process, she was due to begin the programme when pains in her arms led to a diagnosis of an aggressive form of cancer requiring immediate treatment.
‘Well, of course it was a little bit challenging,’ Ani said with a smile, ‘however, as a family we stayed positive. We did not cry, and none of us felt scared, which was amazing. I have always enjoyed solving problems, and I have viewed cancer as just another problem to be solved.’
Armenia’s provision of healthcare is limited, and Ani knew she would have to pay for her own treatment while she deferred her place at Oxford by one year. ‘I wanted to be able to handle it myself, but the costs were huge,’ she said, ‘my friends started a fundraising page for me, and that’s when the campaign went national.’
Ani was approached by Armenian TV channels and other news organisations who wanted to share her story with the country. ‘It was the first time cancer had been discussed at that level, and I received hundreds of emails and letters from people in similar situations. It was as if my battle was their battle – we were fighting cancer together,’ she said.
Ani explained that people are often unwilling to talk about the disease in Armenia: ‘there are many negative stereotypes about cancer, and it scares people. These reactions make cancer patients feel ashamed, and I believe this can adversely affect their treatment. My story has helped to combat these stereotypes, and so more Armenians are now talking openly about their battle.’
The realisation that Ani had helped to change lives led her to set up the Ani Haykuni Cancer Treatment Support Foundation, which provides financial and psychological support for cancer patients in her home country. ‘I worked on the foundation with four other students for my MBA entrepreneurship project and we had great success putting together the financial and marketing strategies. The MBA programme also gave me the opportunity to present the foundation to international organisations in the UK and US,’ she said.
Ani was still undergoing intensive treatment as she began her MBA, and she would often find herself running from lectures to doctors’ appointments. ‘The School helped by recording some lectures for me when there was a chance I might have to miss them, so I could catch up in the evenings. They have been really supportive of me throughout this time.’
Reflecting on her experiences, Ani described how she had ‘never felt a moment of unhappiness’ during her treatment. ‘But the way I approach life has changed,’ she said. ‘I always look for the best in people, and I understand that it is very important to let negative things go. What matters is how you live, and I am so grateful that I have been given a second chance to help people in the future.’
Following her MBA, Ani plans to build upon her passion for innovation using the tools and knowledge she has gained during the programme. ‘I was really inspired by the impact investment module, and I hope to work within that field. However, for me it is not just about the career, it is this question: are you going to make a positive difference to people’s lives, or not? Whatever I do, I want to be a change maker.’