When she was 25-years-old, Hiba Abdul Rahman was diagnosed with Stage 2B breast cancer.
In this stage, the cancer was rapidly growing, but was contained in the breast or had only extended to nearby lymph nodes. She had to undergo 6 rounds of chemotherapy and 15 rounds of radiation treatment.
During this period, she was mostly confined to the house as her immune system was very weak. A simple sneeze from someone else could land her in the hospital with a fever.
It was a frustrating and difficult time, as she had to drop everything from work and studies to focus on recovering.
“Then one day, Naz came to me and suggested that we start a business together. Since we both love to bake, why not? And it’s something that I could do from home.”
They launched BakeGrrls at the end of 2015.
Starting slow, they took orders from home, catered to friends and neighbors, before opening business to the public.
“I started with just baking simple cupcakes, then growing to layered cakes and now baking bundt and wedding cakes. I had always been afraid to try new things, but Naz helped bring out that side of me.”
“If Naz hadn’t suggested it, I don’t think I would have had the guts to start a business, and I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d have a baking business with!”
Her best friend has had Hiba’s back through thick and thin, and is a very important member of the business.
“We complement each other really. I am unable to do fondant work because I removed the lymph nodes on my left arm, so I don’t exactly have the arm strength to knead fondant. Naz on the other hand is great at fondant work!”
Now at 27-years-old, her health has taken a turn for the better and she is in her last semester of her degree in Business Admin.
She is also juggling work as a Events Executive for Cancer Research Malaysia.
“When going through something as challenging as cancer, it’s important to tap into your hobbies and interests. Baking helped bring be back on my feet.”
“It gave me a sense of purpose at a time I felt lost. I had put both my studies and work on hold for two years, so it was a huge change from having my time constantly occupied, to having too much free time.”
Since then, she has gone through an additional 2 surgeries to remove an ovarian cyst on her right and left ovary.
She shared how baking strengthened her family ties too.
“Baking also helped me bond with my niece. At the time of my treatment she was just over a year old but she loved to watch me bake. So now she’s my little helper in the kitchen.”
“It’s memories like these that bring me out of the down times of cancer.”
Her earliest memories of baking take her back to when she was 6 years old, and was helping her mom in the kitchen to make kuih raya.
“There was once Naz came over because my mom needed help to make cupcakes. It was once of the very first times we had ever made cupcakes so we didn’t scrape the sides of the bowl when filling in the cups. My mom got so mad at us and said “DO NOT WASTE BATTER!”
Everything you see on BakeGrrls was done by Hiba and Naz, from baking and deliveries, to taking photos and even R&D.
They do rope in their friends and families to be food tasters once in a while, the only time where they require outside help.
“Honestly I’ve lost count as to the number of deliveries. We’ve had many since we started and I’m happy to say the orders are increasing.”
They make cakes for all occasions; cupcakes, layered cakes, bundt cakes, fondant cakes and brownies. Hiba recently managed to nail her first wedding cake, having had no experience in that before.
Right now, they do not cater to deliveries unless the order is a wedding cake; their customers pick it up from her themselves.
“There have been a few times where I had to turn down or cancel orders because of treatment or surgery. My heart sinks every time I do that as it’s something beyond my control, but I always make it a point to either pass it over to Naz when she’s in KL or pass the order over to my other friends who bake.”
Aside from running a baking gig from home, she also occasionally writes in her blog, to connect with other breast cancer survivors and fighters.
“Our story and our cakes are what makes us different. I don’t think there are many that can say they built a business with their best friend during cancer treatment!
They prioritise meeting customers’ needs—just 2 months ago, a friend ordered a gluten and sugar-free cake for her birthday. Shortly after, she began receiving orders for the same cake.
“I have an allergy to nuts so I understand how difficult it is to find a bakery that would cater to your needs. What I most love about BakeGrrls is that it was built on love, friendship and trust. That is what has kept us going.”
Feature Image Credit: BakeGrrls