I was 12-years-old and didn't understand its power

November 9, 2011


Mohammed Adam Jr. is the 19-year-old grandson of Wanda L. Brown, a 7-year triple negative breast cancer survivor and President and Co-founder of Sisters Network Columbus OH, Inc. When Mohammed was 12-years-old, and his grandmother shared the news with family and friends his innocent age hindered him from understanding the toll of events that would later follow. In this school essay written by Mohammed his freshmen year of college, he shares his experience of watching not only his grandmother’s recovery from breast cancer, but Mohammed was very observant of the emotional brokenness that the diagnosis played on his very own mother.  

As a young child growing up, my parents tried to protect me from many situations such as, death, drugs and alcohol.  Disease is one unfortunate thing which is unavoidable.  When I was twelve my grandmother, on my mother’s side, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Breast cancer has devastated many women and their families all over the world– I never thought that it would grow so close to me.

On a peaceful autumn evening, during early night hours, my grandmother was in her room preparing for a well-deserved relaxation period after a long day.  In the past she had heard many stories of women discovering the tumor themselves through self-examination, while others stumbled across an unfamiliar lump in their bosom.

With thoughts of past women and their stories in mind, my grandmother made the vital decision to exercise her intelligence.  She gave herself an inspection in search of this infamous lump. She unexpectedly discovered it. 

“It can’t be cancer– at least I hope it’s not,” she thought, with a puzzled expression.

She was unmindful to the fact that this lump was a developing army of malignant cells.  Before her doctor’s appointment, my grandmother continued to go through with her regular every day routines as if everything was fine; which in her mind she was.

November 4th during her scheduled appointment with her physician; “Is the lump cancerous or is it something else?” 

The doctor had demanded her wandering attention before breaking the news.  He admitted that, the mountainous thing she discovered in her chest could possibly be cancerous.  But she didn’t give much thought to the potential dangers of the situation at hand; especially since this cellular deformity didn’t exist in our family’s history.  She was more concerned about her Christmas plans and wondered how she would celebrate her upcoming birthday.  A later biopsy confirmed that the tumor was cancerous.

During one of her many mother-daughter conversations that she had with my mom on a regular basis–you know, the ones where they share laughs and stories and also catch up on recent events– she mentioned everything that had occurred, from that shocking autumn evening till present.  She was very demure about the incidents.  But she said it was cancer.  The mood of the conversation abruptly shifted.  Devastated, overwhelmed, shocked– none of these words could truly describe the emotions my mother conjured up from the despicable words:  “I have cancer.”  

Deviating from thinking as the nurse she is, but instead a concerned child, my mother truly believed that cancer meant death.  My mother has cancer– my mother is dying; it was all the same.  This heartbreaking moment, she will remember forever.  Despite feeling as though her heart was ripped out and dispassionately thrown into the never ending abyss, she knew that keeping her composure, staying strong, and being encouraging was best. She had to keep a stone-face and not show her true hurt.

My grandmother organized a family gathering where she broke the news and told everyone that she’d recently been diagnosed with stage two triple-negative breast cancer. All of this she said with a smile. It was as if to assure us that everything would be okay.  Everyone was shocked by the news.  At the time I was twelve, the most I knew about cancer was that it caused tumors and it was a zodiac sign.  I was ignorant to its power.

It was time for surgery.  It was December.  While everyone was thinking about what they would get for Christmas, my grandmother was recovering from a surgery. My mom was more emotionally involved than I was.  In the presence of my grandmother she would be as uplifting as possible, but at home, I witnessed her inner sorrow.

My grandma’s war with breast cancer made her decide that she would participate in spreading the word and explain to women that this illness is one that is non-discriminatory and that anyone can be affected by it.  Educating women, of any ethic background, about breast cancer occupied a large portion of her life.  In 2007 she started the Sister’s Network and became president. 

This disease has produced great turmoil in many families. I’ve learned how not to take life or anything in it for granted because it could be here today and gone tomorrow.  Despite life’s difficulties, you just have to keep moving forward.

Encourage your pre-teenager to give a perspective and join in on this discussion that targets younger-aged caregivers. Was your pre-teen, like Mohammed, oblivious to what cancer really is, or did s/he have more insight on the disease? Comment here or on our Facebook page.

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