Gorgeous gowns, immaculate hair and perfect skin: all the elements of a wonderful beauty paegent. But beneath the glamour and “perfect” image are real people often with complex emotional issues.
Michelle Bekker, 35, is one of 25 finalists vying for the Mrs South Africa title.
She is a beauty queen who knows what it is like to be admired by the world, but who has also 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 fundraising event for the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa), Bekker described that period as one of the “toughest journeys” of her life.
Bekker is one of the top 25 contestants who are required to raise awareness and fund raise 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 Bekker 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 a challenge 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 the beginning.
“At first, I wanted to hide it... but then I realised it was too much of a secret to keep. I told people and spoke about it. It gave me liberty and it gave my family, friends and colleagues the opportunity to support me,” he said.
Jaco 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 to go before Mrs South Africa is crowned in November, Bekker continues to inspire aspiring beauty queens and families affected by cancer.
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 Mrs SA finalists raised over R1 million for Cansa.
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 with melanoma,” she said and advised annual tests to detect skin cancer early.