Kiannah Kossari ’18 ran from her classroom, through the door and collapsed into the last stall of the Seaver bathroom on Oct. 19. In a cold sweat, she leaned against the wall attempting to catch her breath as she ripped off her jacket and sobbed.
She pulled her knees into her chest and cried, her tears dripping onto the chilled bathroom floor as the news of her mother’s tumors hit her with its full force.
After what seemed like hours, she pulled herself off the floor and splashed her face with water, struggling to erase evidence of her breakdown, Kossari recalls. But as she began to walk back to class she couldn’t seem to calm her shaking body and unsteady breaths and realized she was not ready to meet the stresses of her everyday life in the midst of what she calls an anxiety attack, Kossari explained.
For as long as she could remember, Kossari was aware of her family history of breast cancer. Her mother’s aunt died at 18. Her mother’s cousin, at 35 years old. Both due to breast cancer. Kossari’s aunt battles stage four breast cancer every day.
She explained that as residents of Tehran, Iran, her Mother’s aunt and cousin, Sahdat Masshadi and Mehri Masshadi, did not have access to the medical care and expertise available in the United States. As their fears were brushed aside when doctors believed “they were too young to have breast cancer,” Kossari said that by the time they discovered their condition, it was too late.
Currently in the United States, according to US Breast Cancer Statistics, about one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer over their lifetime. For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other, aside from lung cancer. In Iran, it ranks first among cancers diagnosed in women and is the fifth most common cause of death.
Kossari remembers hearing of her mother’s tumors at a young age. When expressing concern, her anxieties were quickly brushed aside and addressed with reassurances for her not to worry.
“I always heard them talking about it, I could hear them speaking in Farsi in undertones and whispers. I knew, I guess. It just kind of made it bigger in my head, not knowing,” Kossari said.
Her worries stemmed from Oct. 7 when her parents casually mentioned that her mother had removed four tumors from her right breast at Beverly Hills Medical Center.
Kossari had not been aware of the purpose of the surgery up to that point, furthering her concern. Though she had a general awareness of her mother’s tumors, she had no previous understanding of the details of her mother’s condition until after the surgery.
Just weeks later after finding out about the original surgery, both her mother and father were in the car when they picked her up from school. Due to her father’s demanding job as a physician, she recalls this being a rare occurrence and immediately recognized something was wrong. Her father calmly told her about the diagnosis and another upcoming surgery on Oct. 21, attempting to prevent her from worrying and help her understand, she explained.
“The hardest part is not telling [Kossari] about the diagnosis. It is explaining what it all means. What to expect and what needs to happen. Then through the sadness and fear in her eyes trying to reassure her that there is hope and empower her with what she can do to help the situation,” Kossari’s father said.
Kossari’s grades suddenly dropped. She found herself crying as she worked on chemistry homework. Schoolwork didn’t matter to her like it once had, she said. Knowing the truth was overwhelming to her, making her feel paralyzed and alone as the realization hit her of the dangerous and potentially life-threatening nature of these tumors.
These worries have led her to suffer from severe anxiety attacks at school and home throughout her sophomore year, leaving her emotionally unsteady and raw, according to Kossari.
“It’s like a constant presence that weighs me down. It’s not that I think about it every second of every day, but it’s there and often I can’t really name it. But when I do think about it, it hits me just as hard every time,” Kossari said.
Years before in the summer of 2012, her mother underwent surgery to remove a hernia, as far as Kossari knew. One night as she went to bed, she noticed a scar on her mother’s breast. She recognized immediately that it must have been a result of a surgery.
She didn’t want to ask questions because of her fear of what the answer might be, Kossari said. She knew that her parents weren’t intentionally trying to hide anything, but they were minimizing the seriousness of the situation and the extent to which they were worried, only adding to her nervousness.
Kossari said she knew that her parents had been trying to protect her from worrying unnecessarily but she was upset and confused. Up until this Oct., she was not aware of any more surgeries since that summer in 2012.
“I didn’t even want to ask because I was so afraid of what I was going to hear… I don’t know if I wanted to know… but then I guess not knowing was worse in a way,” Kossari said.
Her mother, Maryam, has been dealing with breast tumors since she was eighteen, well before Kossari was even born.
Despite the emotion and physical toll the tumors caused, Kossari’s mother said she was more worried about how her daughters were doing than she was about the result of the surgeries. With the deaths of her cousin and aunt, and the diagnosis of her sister, she could see the impact the news was having on her children. She wanted to shield her daughter as much as possible so that she could focus on schoolwork. She didn’t realize the extent to which her daughter was internalizing and over-analyzing her situation.
“Through it all, she [Kossari] remained strong for me and helped all of us in the family get through the difficult time. All the while, I had no idea the degree to which she was affected by this experience,” Kossari’s mother said.
Through all of this, Kossari is firm in her belief that her parents intentions were not of secrecy, but rather of protection from the harsh truth that lies in her genetics.
She recalls the lessons she has learned from her mother, specifically emphasizing that it is far better to be safe than sorry in regards to medical conditions and everyday life.
“Although it has been difficult, this experience has brought our family so much closer together. It’s made us stronger and work together,” Kossari said.
Meanwhile, Kossari has participated on the JV tennis team, continuing the sport she has played for nine years. She finds joy in playing the piano and spending time with her friends once she has completed all her school work, striking a balance of studies and fun.
“She hasn’t let her mother’s situation bring her down at all. Since she found out, she has become stronger and hasn’t let it affect her daily life by playing tennis with [the team] and doing what she loves,” teammate Sofia Guillen ’18 said.
Though life at home is difficult, she said she has continued to do the things she loves and that her mother’s condition has only made her stronger.
Her mother will continue to live with the risk of growing tumors for what they expect to be the rest of her life. In the past, their family has only performed surgeries when absolutely necessary to spare physical and emotional recovery time, a standard Kossari believes her family will continue to uphold.
Kossari’s mother said she will keep her daughter updated on her condition and surgeries, preventing Kossari stress and eliminating secrecy in their communication about her medical situation.
“She is far stronger than she seems and I would never deprive her from the truth. She deserves to know the truth so she can be better equipped to deal with the reality when she needs to face it.”