Cancer Can’t Beat This Oxford Saïd MBA

Ani Haykuni will receive her Oxford Said MBA in September after a year in which she battled cancer and started her own foundation. Courtesy photo

One day you realize that there is nothing to be scared of. After feeling the end approaching and then living a new beginning, having fears seems a waste of time. — Ani Haykuni

It was July 2015, and Ani Haykuni was loving life.

A native of Armenia with a passion for entrepreneurship, Ani had just been accepted to Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. Amid her preparations for beginning Oxford’s one-year MBA program that fall, she continued working for a pair of nonprofit organizations and in her free time did a lot of hiking and “enjoying my life.”

Then she started experiencing a strange pain in both arms. Her first instinct was to wait to  thought the pain would go away after a while; it didn’t. After about a week, she went to the hospital.

Weeks of tests later, Ani was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer. Treatment must begin immediately, she was told, but even with treatment the prognosis was dire. She was 30 years old.


Ani Haykuni. Courtesy photo

“When the doctors gave me their diagnosis, I asked two questions,” Ani recalls. “What are my chances of survival? Secondly, can you treat me within two months? Because I have to go to Oxford.”

She would not be able to go to Oxford — not right away, that is. But Oxford granted Haykuni a one-year deferral, so she could focus on her recovery.

“I contacted Oxford and they gave me a deferral, and they just told me to recover and they would wait for a year,” Ani tells Poets&Quants. “It felt really good to know that there are people, especially at Oxford, that are waiting for me. And that fact helped me a lot in my battle.”


Her recovery was all but guaranteed. The cancer was “very fast-spreading,” Ani says, “and basically I didn’t have much time left.”

She began a chemotherapy regimen right away, in September 2015. For the first months she was bedridden, unable to eat anything for as much as a week after receiving each dose of chemo. And all that time, as she felt her life ebbing away, she clung to messages from Oxford: emails keeping her informed of school developments, inquiring after her progress,

“When I would receive that email from the admission team or recruitment department, keeping me up to date about the program, it helped me a lot,” Ani says.

“I was telling myself, you’re not going to give up, you’re going to recover and you’re going to go to Oxford. You’re going to do what you wanted to do. You know, I had many goals. And that helped me a lot. It was one of the reasons I am alive. I think one who has goals, who reason to live, and passion to help others and create, that helps and it helped me a lot.”


It’s still helping her. Because even after Ani spent the next year in treatment for her cancer, by time fall 2016 rolled around, the cancer was still with her. Her treatment continued — and continues to this day.

As the start of her MBA approached, instead of bowing out, moving on, or asking for more time, Ani got on a plane to England. She would begin her MBA — and, it turns out, finish it — while still undergoing intensive treatment.

And Oxford would keep helping her every step of the way.

“The school has been really supportive of me throughout this time,” Ani says. She didn’t want any special consideration, but sometimes it was unavoidable. When she had to miss lectures for treatment, or when she was too sick to attend, the school recorded the classes so she could catch up in the evenings or the next day. “The admission team, the administrative staff, everyone at Oxford knew my story and what was happening with me — even before I came to Oxford,” she says. “From the first day, I felt the support from them.”