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This Ex SAF Captain Turned Baker Tells Us How Cancer Changed His Life

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Siti Ayeeshah Zaki  •  Apr 29, 2022

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Stage 4 Choriocarcinoma, extensive chemotherapy sessions and losing his job have, if anything, pushed 33-year-old Fuad to think more deeply about the world, his relationships and life. A feat of love, strength and determination, Fuad is now a full-time baker with his own home-based bakery, Captain Roti, and has survived one of the most aggressive cancers in the world. Read on to find out how Fuad turned his diagnosis into a blessing! P.S. Meet The 24-Year-Old That Runs A Choux Bakery Despite Dropping Out Of School Twice
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How Cancer Changed This 33-Year-Old's Life

The Diagnosis

[After surgery] Credit: Courtesy of Fuad & Ferra On 16 December 2016, Fuad was diagnosed with Stage 4 Choriocarcinoma, a rare and aggressive germ cell type cancer that affects one's reproductive organs. By then, his cancer had already progressed and metastasized so widely in his body that he faced a less than 30% chance of recovery. ''Initially, everyone was devastated. My parents received this the hardest but they never shed a tear in front of me. My wife was the pillar of strength behind my journey and together with my family, they encouraged me to take it one day at a time,'' said Fuad. In a cruel series of events following his diagnosis, Fuad's liver also ruptured, and Fuad had to go through life-saving surgery. Unfortunately, this meant that he could not stomach any food or drink for a week. His digestive system collapsed, and he was merely surviving on a drip. And when he finally recovered, treatment for his cancer resumed.
[Chemotherapy Treatment] Credit: Courtesy of Fuad & Ferra Going through months of intense chemotherapy treatment, Fuad experienced overwhelming chemotherapy-induced neuropathy, causing convulsions coupled with intense side effects of vomiting, diarrhoea and extreme fatigue. But the side effects were not the only things Fuad had to battle. His mental health intertwined with his physiological struggles, and he experienced sessions of ''self-debasing, selfish and evil internal monologues'' that made him feel as though he did not have the capacity to withstand or get through the pain.   ''It was painful and arduous. Initially, with chemotherapy, it was difficult. The side effects were overwhelming and I tried every avenue possible to reduce the effects of it. There were many times when I questioned myself - whether it was worth trying to fight this, to the point that it felt like life had no meaning... I felt devastated and I felt envious of people who were able to go about their daily lives – to work and earn a living. It was then I realised that I took health for granted; there were so many who depended on me. And this was actually one of my driving and motivating factors to fight this battle. ''
Credit: Courtesy of Fuad & Ferra Fortunately, Fuad was not alone. Much of his struggle was abated by his loved ones, who encouraged and motivated him to fight for his life. And in an attempt to summon his internal strength and find the answers to all the questions that plagued his mind, Fuad turned to reflections and the Quran. ''Initially, I doubted my recovery, doubted my own faith, doubted that there was a divine, all-encompassing power in every affair that was unfolding in front of me. But I remember how, on the hospital bed, my heart gained comfort when I read Surah Waqia... It was that surah that gave me comfort to my heart. Alhamdulillah, truly it was indeed medicine through His Mercy. I went on for umrah after treatment despite not making a full recovery. Upon returning home, the doctors declared me cancer-free and I could only look at the skies with full gratitude and tears in my eyes. Alhamdulillah, mission impossible became possible with the grace of God.''

Losing His Job & Captain Roti

Credit: Courtesy of Fuad & Ferra Having had to go through intense sessions of treatment, Fuad was forced to leave SAF, where he was a captain. However, he did not stop working despite the job search being an uphill climb. ''It was an uncertain period as I was not in full remission, so I decided to take time off from the rigour of work (as an SAF Captain) to focus on my health... But I felt the need to sustain my family and to pay off my regular medical appointments through my own means. '' It was only after Fuad eventually landed a job as a salesman selling traditional Malay Kuih, Karipap and buns at a shop in Tampines, that his interest in baking yeasted bread sparked.
Credit: Courtesy of Fuad & Ferra ''Personally, I love the idea of creating a product with my hands and through this passion for baking and sharing food with the community, it gives me a sense of fulfilment when my product is able to bring families and friends together, especially during this time where precious family time is scarce due to the day-to-day hustle and bustle.''
Credit: Courtesy of Fuad & Ferra Taking things at his own pace, Fuad started experimenting with bread and pastries, only to constantly surprise himself each time - he had found a new passion! It eventually became his bread and butter, a way to provide for his wife and 1-year-old daughter. Trodding down the path of trial and error, Fuad watched videos from notable chefs such as Johan Martin, Karim Bourgi and Peter Yuen while sieving through information from baking blogs for various baking formulas. And in 2019, after Fuad had made his miraculous recovery from cancer, Fuad and his wife, Ferra started Captain Roti!
Credit: Courtesy of Fuad & Ferra ''‘Captain Roti’ was first coined by my wife back in 2018, we were taking a stroll in JB, and looking at the variety of bakeries i.e. Roti Boy, Beard Papa etc. Back then, I had just left the Singapore Armed Forces as a Captain due to my health limitations. As such, my wife suggested marrying the two ‘titles’ of an ex-Captain in the SAF and my fondness of bread-baking. And this, ‘Captain Roti’ was born – not only as a brand but as a symbol of the long, persistent and victorious life journey I had gone through... ...The whole journey involved plenty of practice, note-taking and trying to identify the root cause behind every failure. Many times, I felt like giving up; baking late into the night till the wee hours of the morning. There was even a period when my wife was heavily pregnant, but I was rolling out dough, laminating with the butter beside her on a portable table next to the bed because the bedroom was the only place that had air conditioning to prevent the butter from melting! Just to perfect the croissant took me 9 months of work. It involved many failed attempts and the wastage of raw ingredients. I kept telling myself that I beat cancer, that this is something incomparable to the surgeries, treatment and chemotherapy that I went through.''

Cancer's After Effects & Baking

Credit: Courtesy of Fuad & Ferra While undoubtedly an admirable feat, Fuad's baking journey was still rife and littered with the after-effects of cancer. ''To be honest, I am still reeling from some side effects of the fight with cancer. I feel that once the immune system has been breached, it will never be the same again. I experience anxiety attacks from trying to fulfil orders and very mild neuropathy (numbness of hands and feet) is common, but I've learned to adapt and live with it. I've learned to pace myself, and most importantly love and cherish every step of the journey. I view life differently now, compared to when I was living life pre-cancer. This may sound morbid but Alhamdulillah for cancer, it changed my life. I love and treasure my loved ones even more now. And personally, I now take more ownership of my own life. The principles of my religion are embedded deeply into my heart and it has become a moral compass for my journey through life. As great scholar Imam al-Shafi’i mentioned, “Health is a crown that the healthy wear but only the sick can see” and I value that the most at the moment.''

Local Bakes For Raya

Credit: Courtesy of Fuad & Ferra ''If I had to pick one of my bakes to eat every day, it would be the Classic Butter Croissant. Not only does it taste good, but it's also versatile! To me though, it symbolizes the journey of focus and sheer will that I went through.'' This Hari Raya 2022, Fuad and Ferra are selling their pastry boxes and packs for anyone who'd love to try some! Their Raya Pastry Pack and CarnivalPack are filled with local pastry flavours and tasty delights like the Beef Rendang Croissant, Lotus Biscoff Croissant, Basque cheesecake croissant tart, Berries Danish, Kouign Amann, and Durian Bombolonis! They'd be perfect as an accompaniment to your Raya goodies and spreads. Be sure to check them out on their Instagram (scroll down for a link to their IG!) ☺️ P.S. Love inspiring stories? Find out how this 29-year-old graduated top of her course despite dropping out!

A Word For Those In Treatment

Credit: Courtesy of Fuad & Ferra HHWT asked Fuad if he had any words to say for individuals still undergoing treatment, and this is what he told us: ''When I founded Captain Roti, it became a constant reminder of what I went through, and that every pastry made is full of love and passion, with a story behind it. It is a tribute to my loved ones who shared the journey with me. It is an inspiration: that even in your darkest moments, there is always a beam of light and a glimmer of hope with His Grace. I understand that one might be scared if diagnosed with cancer. Personally, I was given only a 30% chance of survival with stage 4 choriocarcinoma; an extremely aggressive and rare type of cancer which spreads rapidly with minimal warning. The prognosis that I had was poor and it almost had me give up. However, this mental state should not be in cancer patients for it (cancer) is not a death sentence. The reality is, one has time, and there are survivors out there who have lived to tell their tale.'' P.S. Check Out How This 16-Year-Old Singaporean Runs His Own Barbershop & Inspires Us All
Credit: Courtesy of Fuad & Ferra ''Apart from the spiritual side of things that I came to realise during my journey, I also realised my reasons to live: the people in my life who need me, people whom I want to love and serve. I also felt like I had a purpose, a calling, a mission I hadn't accomplished, a dream I hadn't fulfilled... Maybe all of the above. I wanted to live a long, full life with my loved ones... and this should be the same mission for all who have gone or are currently going through the battle with cancer. Persistence is key, but not to the point of mental anguish. We cope with stress differently but remember, you have family and family support is important. Do not be afraid to reach out to anyone if you need to share your thoughts, as we live to help one another, to become better.'' Captain RotiHalal Status: Muslim-Owned Instagram