Anikka Burton was just 17 when her mother died from breast cancer.
Devastated by her loss, she became increasingly worried that she was at risk too. She decided she wasn’t going to wait to find out, and asked her doctor for a mammogram; she’d even made up her mind to have a preventative double mastectomy, if it meant keeping safe.
But her concerns were brushed off. You’re too young to worry about that, she was told. Come back when you’re in your 40’s.
She was 33 when she noticed her left breast was swollen. Nervous, she made a doctor’s appointment. She was immediately referred to a specialist at a breast clinic, and was very relieved to be told it was just an infection.
But the antibiotics failed to clear it up, so she returned to the specialist. Despite the fact her mother and grandmother had both had breast cancer, and her aunty had just been diagnosed with the disease too, she was reassured, again, that nothing was wrong, and sent home with a stronger prescription.
But Anikka still couldn’t shake the infection, or the feeling that something was wrong.
‘I went back and begged for a biopsy,’ she explains.
Despite her concerns, she didn’t really expect it to be anything, she just wanted to put that last niggle to rest. Instead, tests revealed she had an aggressive form of breast cancer.
‘I was diagnosed on Monday and three days later I started treatment,’ she says. She barely had time to register what was happening before being hurled into 18 months of chemotherapy, Herceptin and, finally, a double mastectomy.
While undergoing treatment, well-meaning friends would send her flowers – sometimes dozens of bouquets at a time. ‘The thought was so kind and very much appreciated,’ she says, ‘but the last thing I had time to think about was finding vases for them all.
‘Then, after a few days, I had to watch them wither and die – not exactly what I wanted to see, under the circumstances.’
She joined some cancer forums, and noticed it was a common theme with people receiving treatment – what to do with all the flowers? Some hospitals didn’t even allow them on the wards, so they never even reached their recipient. It seemed such a waste, and Anikka couldn’t help but think that same amount of money could be spent on something much more useful.
Then she began to wonder: But what?
People going through cancer treatment are often advised not to eat dairy products, so gifts like cupcakes and chocolate are equally wasted. It’s also suggested they avoid toiletries containing parabens and sulphates, ruling out a lot of traditional pamper hampers too.
That’s when Anikka first had the idea to set up an online store selling thoughtful and appropriate ‘Chemo Care’ gifts.
As soon as she had completed her own treatment, she started visiting trade shows, carefully selecting products that ticked all the boxes – specialist toiletry sets, front-buttoning pyjamas in soft materials that wouldn’t irritate sensitive skin, natural nausea treatments, and edible treats that didn’t clash with chemotherapy.
She even stocked a range of empathy cards, as she realised many generic versions didn’t convey the right message. ‘Get Well Soon isn’t always appropriate,’ she points out, ‘because, tragically, some people know they aren’t going to get better.’
Not Another Bunch of Flowers went live at the end of 2013, and Anikka realised much of range was also perfect for general get well gifts, and even for new mums. She began to expand the range to include items such as puzzles, hot water bottles and journals.
Although she will remain on Tamoxifen for years to come, Anikka, now 39, considers herself one of the lucky ones. Today there is no evidence of the disease in her body, and Not Another Bunch of Flowers continues to go from strength to strength.
But the best news came a year ago. ‘I’d been told I wouldn’t be able to have children (as chemotherapy can cause your ovaries to stop working),’ she says, ‘which was absolutely devastating.’
But she and husband Craig refused to give up on the chance to have a family. They went to a specialist doctor, and were excited to learn her ovaries were working again.
A few weeks into this new year, baby Monty was born. ‘Even when I’m exhausted from getting up four times a night, all I can think is how lucky I am to be here to look after him,’ she says.
‘I feel very blessed.’