Before October ends, we would like to dedicate this edition of #stylechatter for #Pinktober month to spread breast cancer awareness! A cause close to our heart as women. We catch up with the ever bubbly, Hiba Abd Rahman (@babatheawesome) during one of her weekend baking do on her story battling breast cancer at the young age of 25 years old and what she wish everyone knew about cancer with the capital C.
- 1. Tell us about yourself… My name is Hiba but I have many many nicknames: hibs, hibster, baba the awesome, ba and at one time my friends called me snow for some strange reason. I’m a 27 year old Events Executive at Cancer Research Malaysia that’s currently pursuing a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and who bakes on the side (@Bakegrrls). I’m the youngest (and weirdest!) out of 5 siblings and I’m a geek at heart. I’m a die hard Harry Potter fan and have finally accepted that I’m a true Hufflepuff! I’m always up for food adventures and I take my food seriously! :p
- 2. How did you find out that you had cancer and how do you dealt with it that time? I found a lump in my breast when I was 21 and immediately went to get it checked. I’ve always been the type to be aware of my health, so going to the doctor was no big deal for me. Unfortunately, the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong. You see, I went to see a gynaecologist and back then I didn’t know that gynes don’t check breasts. No one in my family has had breast cancer, so I had no one to advise me otherwise. I just assumed that any problems related to women’s health would be seen by a gyne. So he referred me to a radiologist for an ultrasound and the doctor said it was a cyst. I got it checked every year and each time the answer would be the same.
In February 2015, a month after my 25th birthday, I started bleeding from my nipple. I got it checked again, and the radiologist said that my milk ducts were full and it was normal for breast feeding women. Bear in mind, I was neither married nor did I have any children at that time! The report was sent up to my gynae for a review and he was not satisfied with it so thankfully, he referred me to a breast surgeon the same day. She did an ultrasound and found everything. She showed me that there were white spots referred to as calcification, spots that looked like tumours and that my lymph nodes were swollen. She walked me through the whole process and prepared me for the worst. To confirm it, a biopsy was done and 5 days later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
To be honest, I wasn’t shocked when she broke the news to me because she had already prepared me for the worst. I focused on my treatment plan and wanted to know everything about my diagnosis. Part of the reason I decided to move forward was because I wanted to stay strong for my mom. My doctor told me that chemo, surgery and radiation therapy were definitely on the table. A CT scan and some blood work later, I was confirmed to be a Stage 2B breast cancer patient.
I went to seek a second opinion on my treatment plan and the surgeon suggested that I pursue chemotherapy first as it would help to see my response to the treatment and give me a clearer margin when I go for surgery. She connected me to an oncologist which I instantly clicked with and decided to do chemotherapy first. After 6 rounds of chemo, a surgery without reconstruction, radiation therapy and 17 cycles of targeted therapy (herceptin), here I am!
- 3. What keeps you motivated during tough days back then? I have an unwavering support system that I would not trade for anything in this world. My family, friends and medical team have stuck by me since day one. I’ve been blessed with a smoother journey than others, which is also what keeps me positive. If I feel down, I remind myself that there are others going through much worse and I should be grateful. Hospital visits can be very dull, so I try to make my journey more fun. My friends would come over to the house to see me as opposed to having me go out. My family would plan staycations and we’d go to take a breather from treatment. I did henna on my head when I was bald and did a little photoshoot when I first shaved off my hair (I pretended I was Voldemort :P) ! I photographed every chemo cycle to document my journey. I even have a Baymax doll that I brought with me to every hospital visit. I wouldn’t start treatment without him because he was basically my security blanket ! At the end of my chemo and herceptin treatment, I celebrated it. There was cake and food and I even dressed up! The theme was harry potter of course.
- 4. How life has changed from being a fighter to now a survivor? I still consider myself a fighter for the simple reason that every day, I’m getting to know the new me ! My body has gone through so much, so there are lots of symptoms that crop up that I never got pre-cancer. It’s difficult but it’s also interesting, like getting to know a new person. The fear of whether that person would click with you is there, but you also want to get to know the person. My memory has improved tremendously but it’s still not quite there yet. I’m in remission at the moment which means the cancer cells are asleep. After 5 years, then i’ll be considered cancer-free. Even then, it’s not 100% guaranteed because all it takes is one cancer cell so i’m learning to live life to the fullest, one day at a time ! I started swing dancing this year and I love it!Throughout my whole journey, chemo was the worst. I lost my hair, gained 10 kgs, lost my appetite, had body aches, had insomnia, felt nauseated and had chemo brain which is a loss of memory and focus. It was frustrating and it is something I don’t wish on anyone. A lot of people have asked me why I chose not to do reconstructive surgery and have said that I’m brave for choosing that option. In reality, I chose it because it was the quickest surgery with the fastest recovery period ! It took some time for me to adjust to not having a left breast, but I’ve embraced my battle scar now. I feel like a warrior and I don’t need two breasts just to feel beautiful.
- 5. What do you enjoy to do the most? I love to bake! I’ve been baking since I was 6 years old, when I helped out my mom to make Kuih Raya. Then when I was going through treatment and couldn’t go out much, a friend of mine came up with an idea to start a business together. Thus was the birth of @BakeGrrls! It’s a small home baking business and I do it for the love of baking really. It keeps my mind off things and is my form of therapy. A friend of mine just called me a few days ago and asked that I do her wedding cake in December, so I’m looking forward to that project!
- 6. Any goals that you would like to achieved in the near future? I’ve got a bucket list! To go for Hajj and to go to Disneyland! I know they are basically two opposites, but they fulfill different sides of me. I’m getting back on my feet so going back to work feels great, and working for a particular goal feels even better. I want to also finish my degree. I’ve been delaying that for far too long, and it will be my gift to my mom. She deserves to have that peace of mind, that her baby girl is doing okay despite the bump on the road. One of the things that I would really like to do as well, is to inspire, educate and spread awareness about breast cancer in the youth and to let them know that breast cancer isn’t the end of the road. I’m living proof of that!