A young woman’s death-defying fight against the big C
By Reenassri Sekaran
It’s a word no one ever wants to hear from their doctor – Cancer, let alone breast cancer.
The Breast Cancer Awareness Month, marked in countries across the world every October, helps to increase attention and support for the awareness, early detection and treatment as well as palliative care of this disease.
According to the Malaysian National Cancer Registry (MNCR) Report 2011, cancer is one of the leading causes of death in Malaysia and breast cancer is the most common form of malignancy affecting women.
We met up with Hiba Abdul Rahman, a young breast cancer survivor who found out about her condition just a week before her 25th birthday.
Living as a breast cancer survivor
She sat across me and recommended me the savory pancakes which proved delicious. She smiled and began her story.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 on Feb 16. I had just come out from the shower and realised my nipple was bleeding,” Hiba said.
She had a lump on her left breast that went misdiagnosed for five years.
“Doctors told me ‘It’s nothing, it’s a cyst, it’s not cancerous’ and that I just had to come back yearly to check on it,” she said.
Not only did her doctor find a tumor on her breast, her lymph nodes were swollen and there were calcifications.
“The doctor tried to keep me positive and said that she had to do a biopsy to confirm if it was cancer. I went home and told my family the news.”
A week later, doctors confirmed that she had Grade 2 and Stage 2 breast cancer.
Hiba’s Natalie Portman phase
The six cycles of chemotherapy were the toughest experience for Hiba.
“The first day was so horrible. I remember feeling nauseated, weak and couldn’t open my eyes. At the end of the first cycle, my hair started falling out. That’s when I decided to shave my head.”
It was tough seeing herself bald but Hiba placed a creative twist on it when she got a henna artist to do henna on her head.
“My mom told me I looked like Natalie Portman!”
Hiba lost her father in January, a month before she was diagnosed.
“My mom focused all her attention on me. I had a bunch of close friends who would take turns taking care of me in the hospital.”
Losing her breast
“When I had my mastectomy, I thought I was prepared for it. But when I got out of surgery, the first thing I did was look for my left breast. That was tough because there’s only so much you can mentally prepare for,” she said.
Hiba opted not to have breast reconstructive surgery.
“I don’t have a left breast, and I’m comfortable with it. I realised that it doesn’t matter what you look like, people who you love will still love you the way you are. A lot of women come to me and ask me about this and I always tell them to do what makes them comfortable and happy,” said Hiba.
Second round warrior
After her mastectomy, Hiba had to undergo 15 rounds of radiation therapy. But then she received the bad news that she was HER2-positive. In about 20 per cent of breast cancers, the cells make too much of a protein known as HER2. These cells tend to be aggressive and fast-growing. This meant that Hiba had to go through an extended treatment called Herceptin to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.
“As soon as I got that piece of paper, I cried.”
After her doctor’s recommendation to take a month-long break, Hiba decided to pack her bags and travel around Europe.
“I was free. It was something I really needed. It was a breath of fresh air,” she said.
After 17 rounds of Herceptin, something felt amiss. She went for a scan and a 6cm cyst was found in her ovary. In 2017, another 8.8cm cyst was found and it burst while Hiba was at work.
“My health has been quite a rollercoaster both physically and emotionally. Having said that, the obstacles that I face just make me stronger and allows me to appreciate life even more.”
Unleashing her inner baker
“I actually started baking in 2015 when I was diagnosed. When I was sick I couldn’t go out much – I started baking. It was very therapeutic. In the end, I revamped my whole baking business.”
Now she runs a baking business on Instagram under the handle ‘Spectacula’.
“I had the opportunity to go through everything I did, and learn things about myself, my family, who my friends are, and about life. Those who see you at your lowest moment, at your worst, and can accept you and be there for you. Those are the people that you need to keep in your life.” — The Health
Hiba is all smiles looking forward to her sweet future ahead of her.