Having a home-based business selling cookies, cakes and dumplings has helped Ms Juliana Ramli cope with her child’s cancer as well as Covid-19.
The 45-year-old, then a freelance enrichment teacher, started her baking business in 2014 to supplement her household income. She is married to a 48-year-old assistant engineer in the civil service and they have three sons, aged 15, nine and two.
In 2018, three months after she gave birth to her third child, her second child, Faiz Ihsan Mohamad Sofian, was diagnosed with Wilms’ tumour, a rare type of kidney cancer, when he was in Primary 1.
Ihsan, then seven years old, had been having fever frequently and was losing weight. His general practitioner felt a lump on his stomach during a consultation, prompting a referral to the hospital.
Ms Juliana put her online business, Crumbs N Batter, on hold for several months as Ihsan underwent chemotherapy and surgery.
“It was wrenching that I could not go through it for him,” she says.
When she resumed her baking business, it gave her the flexibility of caring for Ihsan. She could take him to the hospital and help him manage his studies. He took private classes and returned to school the following year, in Primary 2.
Working from home also helped her to be more present for her teen, she says.
When her eldest son Firas Isaac was in Secondary 1, he started to resent the attention she paid to Ihsan, as he ailed. Being around for Isaac smoothed tensions and he ended up taking better care of his younger brothers too.
At one point, Ihsan was so affected by his experience with cancer that he vomited reflexively every time he was reminded of it. Even hearing the words “chemo” or “needles” would set him off.
Isaac would prepare a bucket for Ihsan to throw up in, and also helped with his baby brother’s diaper changes and milk feeds.
During the pandemic, Ms Juliana’s income stream was affected when home-based businesses were not allowed to operate for about two weeks, which raised concerns among home bakers preparing to ramp up production ahead of Hari Raya Puasa in May last year.
When home-based businesses were allowed to resume, she had barely two weeks to fulfil the Hari Raya orders she had received, instead of the usual month.
She baked 12 hours a day till the wee hours of the morning, often starting at 2pm and stopping past 2am.
Sometimes, she pushed on till the family had their pre-dawn meal during the fasting month, before staggering to bed.
Whenever the boys had no school the next day, they stayed up past their bedtime to accompany her.
Having a home business has made her entire family more resilient, she says.
“It was difficult for Ihsan to go through his treatments and they have seen me working hard at home. We can see the roles that we all play and that has made us more appreciative of one another.”