Skip to main content

Her last name, Abbas, means “lion” in Arabic and you don’t have to talk with Anisah very long to realize that behind her beautiful, smiling countenance beats the heart of a lion.

Anisah is twelve. She is outgoing and incredibly bright. She wants to go to Bali, Italy, and Japan. She wants to visit every state – a goal she is fast approaching. She wants to road-trip to California; but mostly, she wants to leave cancer in her dust as she drives away. Because this lion is fighting cancer for the fourth time.

Anisah was first diagnosed with a Wilms tumor at two years-old. After harsh treatment and surgery to remove a kidney, the cancer returned when she was eight, and then again when she was ten.

Last year, Anisah’s cousin, Misha, convinced her to make a short movie about her life’s story. Then Misha submitted it to The America I Am Youth Film Competition, which is part of the Tribeca Film Institute. Films in the competition had to be five minutes or less and created by a child between the ages of twelve and eighteen. As a budding actress, Anisah had a great time creating the film but also developed a passion for the production and editing aspects of filmmaking.

And then the call came!

Anisah’s film, Life of a Lion, was chosen as one of the top five finalists out of two hundred entries.

“I was so excited,” she recalled. “I started screaming and jumping up and down. And then I started getting ready to go to New York!”

Just before she left, a routine six-month scan revealed that her cancer was back for the fourth time.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “I’ve been through so much and I don’t think I deserve this. But I’m more positive this time and I’m not scared. Sometimes people treat you different, but all of my friends are really supporting me.”

Right away, there were questions about whether she would be able to go to awards ceremony in New York City. She told her doctors she would do whatever it took, and they gave her a bridge chemo which allowed her to travel. She said she actually felt pretty good as she prepared to leave.

The trip was wonderful. She went with her mom and sister, Asiya, and Misha flew in from California to join them. She got to attend classes on filmmaking and meet the other entrants. When it came time for the awards, Anisah’s story won the award for Best Story!

“All of the other kids had expensive cameras and production crews,” Anisah laughed. “I made mine with an iPhone 6 and only my cousin and sister helped me. I heard someone say their budget was a thousand dollars. My budget was zero.”

Anisah was the youngest film finalist in Tribeca Film history.

With that honor under her belt, Anisah hopes to make more films, specifically documentaries, after she is finished with cancer. She also loves to sing and Bollywood dance. Although it seems that she is on track to a career in the arts, she has a strong desire to be in the military. Her grandfather was a pilot in her family’s home country of Bangladesh, and she wants to follow his footsteps into the Air Force.

“Even though I am small, I feel that I’m a lion because I am fierce and strong,” she says. “And nothing can stop me!”

Don’t put it past her to be a pilot, soldier, or anything else she chooses. After all, lions are beautiful, but they were made to roar.


You can watch Anisah’s winning film by clicking here.