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

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.

12 thoughts on “I was 12-years-old and didn’t understand its power

  1. I feel that there are a lot of children who experience the same thing that Mohammed did. I know that my 17 year old who is getting ready to submit her proposal for her Girl Scout Gold Award discusses my breast cancer diagnosis and how it affected her and how others have helped me. Actually though I don’t know where I would be without my daughter because even though she was so upset she was the driving force behind my recovery. She helped me tremendously but she suffered so much with the thought of what could have happened. I am three years out now and very active in Susan G. Komen and wouldn’t have it any other way. I know that it is so important to me to be able to help other and be supportive of other women in this position; I talk to many and try to help. I think the children learn by example. What wonderful children we have been blessed with.

  2. I am the mother of Mohammed Adam Jr. Reading his essay made me aware of his buried feelings and knowledgable of the affect Cancer has on children. I was moved to tears by parental pride and the unraveling of emotions that I have been harboring. I am extremely proud of my son for sharing his essay and over joyed that my mother is a Breast Cancer SURVIVOR.

    • Katrina, you should be very proud of your son and I am very happy for you and your mother. I aspire to be just like her. I think breast cancer is a difficult topic to discuss with any teenager but especially tough on a 12 year boy. I found that with my daughter she did not want to talk to me about this because at first she was dead set against the surgery that I was about to have and she was only 14–I don’t know for sure whether she grasped the entire consequence of me not having the surgery I needed. Breast Cancer SURVIVORS are becoming more and more common today, thank GOD, as this diagnosis today is no longer a death sentence. There is so much that can be done. Let’s both be proud of our children for the love and support that they contribute in our family life. I know I am very proud of my daughter, who by the way will need to undertake her watchful screenings at a much earlier age than most girls simply because of my breast cancer history.


    • Jenny,
      I’m sorry to just be reading this, but I remember when your mom passed. I still see her at the piano say now Brown sing louder. Don’t let fear hold you back, continue to be vigilant in getting your mammogram also. Stay on top of it, early detection is the key. I’ll see you when I come home for Desi’s graduation.

  4. Jennifer, I have to agree with you that this is a terrible disease. Let me tell you a little bit about what happened to my mother and me. My mother had breast cancer in 1980, and had to have a radical mastectomy. There was no reconstruction at that time. In 1988 she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was hard on her and the rest of us to watch. She faced grueling treatments. I remember chemotherapy being in hospital 6 days a month. My mother passed in 1994. I need to encourage you ladies to keep up on your screenings and be vigilant about it. You see in 2008 I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, which is breast cancer. I was very lucky because it was caught very early on my mammogram. I had genetic counseling and was found to be BRCA2 positive which meant that my mother passed the gene to me. I made hard decisions relying on this genetic testing. I decided to have a hysterectomy and then a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. I had a wonderful doctor, Dr Sameer Patel from Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, the best, he reconstructed my breasts and you can’t tell by looking at me that I had any of this done, and three years later I am cancer free and doing very well. The last thing I want to tell you is that I religously went for my mammograms starting at age 29. At age 47 I had a clean mammogram and at age 48 I had a very small cancerous tumor, 0.6 cm in size. I was so lucky that I went for that mammogram and didn’t miss my screening that year. I guess my point being is that you guys shouldn’t run in fear because of your mother’s history but you should be smart about things and vigilantly take care of yourself by never missing a beat and getting those screenings regularly. Talk to your docs about what types of testing are appropriate for you. Yes I HATE CANCER TOO. IT IS UGLY AND VERY TOUGH ON FAMILIES.

  5. I am sorry Jennifer, but I didn’t mean to leave an annonymous posting. I wish the best for you and your sister. I know personally what a terrible experience it is to watch your mother suffer from this terrible terrible disease. My prayers are with you and your family after the loss of your mother. –katpet

  6. I am very sorry Jennifer. I didn’t mean to post an annonymous comment. I know that you and your sister and the rest of your family have been through a lot. Hopefully now your wounds from this experience are starting to heal. So sorry for the loss of your mother. –katpet

  7. Reading this outstanding essay by this bright and talened Young man from across the miles(New York-Rockland County).. It was truly a beautiful way for him to express his feelings and emotions, regarding his grandmother illness and just observing what she was going through to put pen to paper Just Great !!!!…His grandmother must have been beside herself with Joy for her grandson to write such a Outstanding Essay as this one. His mother should be Very very Proud of him Which I know she IS,, Great Job Raising A Shining Star FABULOUS JOB!!!! Mohammed… Continue To Always Put Your Best Food Forward. You Are Sure To Make A Perfect Landing!! *** Across the Miles- Delores : )

    • Thank you, and yes I am extremely proud of him. He is a wonderful young man. It is important to talk to your family when you are facing something like cancer. It affects everyone close to you. Sharing your thoughts and laughter is important for you and those around you.

  8. Thank you, I have just been searching for information about this topic for a while and yours is the greatest I have found out so far. But, what in regards to the bottom line? Are you certain concerning the source?

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