Dubai: Beating cancer once is no easy feat. Beating cancer twice in the span of just seven years is an unbelievable feat.. Especially if the latter of those cancers is a stage four bone cancer, that has spread so far, it required nine samples of biopsies. “I said to myself. “Your body created this cancer, your body will get rid of it,” Sophia Bakkal said to Gulf News.
Sophia is a French-Morrocan ex-corporate girl, turned life coach after her cancer changed her life. “I was working constantly. My goal was to work for the biggest companies and rise the ranks. My entire life was focused on my career. I gave so much weight and importance to success. I wasn’t spending much time with my two young kids,” Sophia said.
Seven years ago, at a routine check-up, Sophia discovered that she had breast cancer. She was five months pregnant. It was stage two.
She lived in Georgia at the time. “I had my first cancer then. I was still working incredibly hard and dedicating my life to my corporate job. When I discovered I was sick, I did one year of chemo. I went to France to get treated and I delivered my son there. It was scary having cancer while I was pregnant. When I came back to Georgia, to return back to my life, the company I worked for made me redundant for medical reasons and that was a big slap to my face."
When my son was born healthy, it was the triumph of my life and this is when I started to understand that it was about fulfilment.
I beat breast cancer through chemo and visualising survival. My pregnancy was a big motivation for me to heal my body and get better. I had to be around for my babies! During my first cancer, my goals were all about work. For my first daughter, I took 10 days of maternity leave. After I got cancer, I realised that life wasn’t all about work. I realised I wasn’t fulfilled. When I was given a second chance at life with my baby. I never disconnected from work. My biggest regret was not breastfeeding her. The first lesson learned was that life isn’t about achievement, it’s about relationship and bonding. And I wish I had spent that time bonding with my daughter.
After my daughter was born, we moved to Dubai. I was working a corporate job there too and I could feel the stress levels here as well. I worked in Fashion, which is such a cut-throat industry. We work so hard, so my stress increased. During another one of my check-ups, we spotted ovarian cancer cells in my uterus, in its very early stages. I don’t really count this as cancer, because I was so lucky to have spotted it so early on. We had the surgery and it was removed. ”
It is about mindset as well as medicine
Then came the rarest, yet most serious illness of them all. Sophia was diagnosed with bone cancer last year. According to the Mayo Clinic, Bone cancer is rare, making up less than 1 per cent of all cancers. Her bone cancer was stage four, which is the last and most fatal cancer stage. “I had the symptoms. Back pain near the affected area and oh my god, so much fatigue,” Sophia told Gulf News. “The cancer had spread so much across my body.” I had two doctors actually. The doctor here in Dubai told me that my cancer was so spread that he didn’t even know where to do the MRI. The doctor in France however, gave me a lot of hope.”
“As someone, who has had experience with cancer before, I decided to take a leap of faith and experiment with the treatment plan. They gave me a chemotherapy plan and I made a decision to decrease the protocol of chemo, in order to maintain my quality of life. Out of three medicines, I was prescribed, I accepted only two. I focused on alternative options, like meditation, hydrotherapy nutrition and the most important is energy healing. I did that twice a week for three months.”
“With bone cancer, you really do feel the pain. So I started healing meditation and I cannot tell you the difference it made. The pain decreased after every session. Then I started to take more things on. I started doing yoga, I started walking after my chemotherapy sessions. I built up my strength and eventually, I started running. I even ran the Dubai marathon, a day after my chemo session.
And it worked. 9 months later, Sophia had the best news from her doctor.
You are completely clear!
“I am now cancer-free. Doctors were amazed at how my body managed to beat such widespread cancer with less than the recommended chemo protocol that I was able to get rid of cancer. But I was making a lot of lifestyle changes.
“The clean eating, the exercise, the constant positivity. I didn’t allow myself to worry, to be negative or the ever think that I would die from this disease. I literally focused all of my energy on the good. I left my corporate life and started my own Life Coaching company, Sophia Bakkal Create Lasting Change, I started to honour my values.
“After more than 10 years working with some of the largest international conglomerates in the fashion and FMCG world, Sophia took a leap and changed her career to become a certified Life Coach. “A few years ago, I was not fulfilled. I felt like I had no direction, then I went to a life coaches and it changed my life. They helped me figure out what was missing. I was so harsh on myself, they taught me to love and appreciate myself and so much more. That’s when I decided that I also wanted to help people this way.”
“Before my cancer, it felt like I was blind. I worked, paid the bills and worked some more, but cancer changed my life for the better,” Sophia told Gulf News. It improved her relationship with her parents, husband and her children. It showed her what really mattered and it gave her a sense of clarity unlike anything else before in her life.
I went to a lot of seminars all over the world. I read a lot. I went to see Tony Robbins, who eventually became one of my mentors and I am one of his senior leaders and I went Joe Dispenza the Neuroscientist, to listen to him speak. I took part in seminars all over the world.
“I also had to let go of the stress. I learned that while we are stressed, our body becomes more acidic and cancer tends to thrive better in an acid environment, so I decided to let the worry go. My focus stayed on healing. I visualised dancing with my two kids at their wedding in Morrocco with my best friends. This was what kept me going. I told myself that I would live long enough to see that.”
Now Sophia does maintenance chemo sessions to ensure that the cancer stays gone.
The lessons I learned
Sophia’s first cancer taught her that life shouldn’t solely be about achievement, it’s about having those great relationships with people around you and bonding with others. Happiness is best when shared.
Her second cancer was all about giving herself a sense of meaning. During COVID-19, Sophia and her family and her friends were helping the Morrocan community living in the UAE with rent, food, school fees etc. “The secret to living well is giving. I lived in six different countries for the last 10 years and I realised that human beings are fundamentally the same. They all have the same patterns and we all need the same thing.”
Sophia’s goal was to leave a legacy behind, something for her kids. Before cancer, life was all about career, power and money. That was the destination. “I don’t think that way anymore. There shouldn’t be a “destination” in life, it’s all a journey that we have to enjoy.” So instead of leaving her kids with tonnes of money and a strong work ethic, she wants to leave them with an understanding of value, of love, of health and the importance of contributing to society. “After my second cancer, all my values changed. My focus in life became working on my health. Giving love to my family and friends as well as contributing to society.”
People tell me how unlucky I am, that I had to deal with cancer two times in the last 10 years, but I consider myself lucky because it totally changed the way I live. I have never felt as rich as I do today.”