My Trip Part One: I Got Out of My Comfort Zone

About seven-ish months after my dad passed away, I made a week long trip with my mom and my sister half way across the world to India where most of my father’s family resides. This trip was extremely emotional and moving, but I did not seem to get closure on my father’s death whatsoever. I mainly went to show my face and pay my respect to my dad’s parents.

I made the decision to go back to India by myself this past month. I made the decision to get out of my comfort zone, to receive closure with the cancerous tragedy, and also to finally deal with my negative feelings. One of the hardest parts was the fact that I didn’t have my mom and sister to walk me through this. Thankfully, I was staying with family members during my whole trip. Although I was staying with family, I still didn’t feel so comfortable at first. By the end of my trip, everything in India felt like home.

I didn’t have many expectations going into the trip; I wasn’t sure if I would actually get the closure I wanted. But, I got out of my comfort zone, went to a different country alone, and grew immensely as a person.

Everyday I did something new and everyday I learned something new. I had a new realization about my dad, my life, and cancer in general. By the end of my trip, I started to accept my dad’s death. I started to come to terms with the tragedy that occurred in my life. I analyzed many aspects during my trip. I thought about which friends were really there for me, I thought about how my grades in school suffered, and I thought about what my dad was going through. I always knew that he was in pain and he was scared of the future, but it was only when some of his friends started telling me the things he told them during his sick days that I really started to put myself in his shoes. The thoughts of my dad’s suffering brought me back a few steps, but the trip as a whole resulted in me taking giant leaps on this grieving process.

This experience has taught me the best way to grow as an individual is to leave your comfort zone. I am so beyond thankful I had the experience to travel and grow as a person while grieving in a healthy way.

Here is a picture of me with my dad's mother. We had unforgettable heart-to-hearts about my dad. She also lost her dad at a young age, and then her son at an old age. I have a ridiculous amount of respect for her and I am so thankful I got to bond with her for the first time in my life.

Here is a picture of me with my dad’s mother. We had unforgettable heart-to-hearts about my dad. She also lost her dad at a young age, and then her son at an old age. I have a ridiculous amount of respect for her and I am so thankful I got to bond with her for the first time in my life.

My Magical Week at Camp Kesem

Last week, I attended Camp Kesem as a counselor. My fellow counselors were raving about how  life changing this organization is, but only when the camp started, I experienced the magic of Kesem.

Camp Kesem is a non-profit organization that sends kids who have or have had a parent with cancer to an unforgettable summer camp. All of these kids have been touched by this terrible sickness in one way or another. Everyone has a cancer story at Camp Kesem, which creates indescribable bonds and lifelong relationships.

Kesem is just like any other summer camp with the go karts, creative arts and crafts, rock climbing, sports, thrilling zip lining, and so much more, except Camp Kesem offers a safe place for all the campers (and counselors) to share their cancer story and their feelings.

The head counselors grouped our 120 campers in units based on age. Each unit had a color to represent themselves. I was a counselor for the yellow unit, which was for 10-11 year old campers. The colors were a good way to gain spirit and add some competition to Kesem. Also, it was an opportunity for counselors to get little gifts for campers. For example, yellow unit counselors got their campers bandanas and socks. This gives an immediate bond between counselors and campers, and more importantly it’s just a little something that each camper can take home and keep as a memorabilia.

Every night before going to bed, each cabin (which were separated by our units) had a little chat. We called this Cabin Chat! It was a time for the campers to talk about anything from how their day went to how the day went when they found out their parent had cancer. The counselors asked light questions, like their favorite part of the day and proceeded to ask deeper and heavier questions about cancer. Of course the kids don’t have to answer any questions they don’t want to.

Head counselors also organized a Parent Memorial to remember those who have lost their life to cancer. There was a slideshow with the parents of counselors and campers who have passed and a time for each one to share a favorite memory with their parent and write them a letter. In between all of this, two counselors were chosen to speak and share their cancer story and I happened to be one of them.

Through the first few days of camp leading up to the ceremony, I was really nervous to tell my story. I kept thinking about what to say between all of our fun activities. To be totally honest, I was really scared I would say something that would hurt a camper’s feelings. I also wasn’t sure of how much of my story I should be telling. Should I be telling all these kids that I watched my dad die? Should I tell them about my hospital and Hospice experience? Should I tell them about the negative feelings that occurred during my dad’s sickness? Should I tell them how I cope? Should I tell them about my blog? Should I tell them about the positive lessons I have learned during a sad time? I had all of these questions plus thousands more running through my head. After the slideshow, it was my turn to speak. I stood up and looked around the circle. Everyone had this face on- it was like cancer just literally punched them in the stomach at that minute. So, I just started talking. I had no idea on how I was even going to start or end, but I just talked. I talked about when I found out my dad had cancer and how the chemotherapy just stopped working. I then talked about my blog and all of the things I do to help myself get through this hard time. I touched on the fact that this feeling will never leave, but the people here and those who also have a cancer story will always be here. Another counselor said something that really touched my heart. He explained that we never stop grieving over our parents, we just become stronger. This is completely true. I am never going to stop thinking about my dad. Right now, I think of my dad and cry but I know that one day I will think about him and smile. I can only hope that every child also going through this has a day where they think of their parent and they also smile.

Later that same evening, we had another emotional ceremony that all campers and counselors took apart in. We got white paper bags where everyone wrote their reason for being at Camp Kesem. The campers participated in a Trust Walk where they closed their eyes and held onto the backs of the camper in front of them quietly. The counselors led them into a dark room where all their bags were lit up from glow sticks and in the shape of a big heart. We all took a seat around the room and stayed silent. We then went in a circle and said why we were here. At this point, I was in complete tears listening to everyone’s story. Person after person saying how the c word has touched their life tore me apart. By the time everyone had a chance to talk, I would say most were crying. We spent the next hour just crying and hugging. As I took a step back to take in the moment, I had happy tears tingle down my cheeks. The room was full of support and love and every single person, no matter their age or cancer story felt it in their heart. It was truly a beautiful moment.

As the end of the week started to come, I was sad my magical week was almost over! I had such an amazing week and I truly cannot wait for the next three years. It was an honor to be surrounded by inspiring and supportive campers and counselors. Once again, I am so beyond thankful to be apart of Camp Kesem, helping those who have been touched by cancer (while helping myself) and I look forward to my future involvement.

Yellow Unit counselors

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Yellow Unit counselors

A picture with 2/5 of the counselors

A picture with 2/5 of the counselors

Counselors during meal time

Father’s Day

In honor of Father’s Day, my sister wrote a guest blog piece! Devika teaches American history and enjoys writing Yelp food reviews, playing water polo, and exploring new cities.  

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Today will be the second year that my sister and I won’t be celebrating Father’s Day the way we used to – trying to figure out the surprise gifts, who would take him golfing and what dinner plans would be. Unlike birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays, Father’s Day is the day where everyone at the same time celebrates their father. I’ve been walking around shops where I see all the Father’s Day gifts and goodies out and I see my friends posting pictures of them and their dads. My heart aches when I feel that I’m no longer a part of that club.

There are moments where I feel so jealous that I won’t have my father to see when I go home or even in the future at my wedding or when I have children, but then I remember him in his true form – a man of love, truth, grit, and incredible generosity. Like my sister has said so many times, he was someone who gave and gave, left a legacy where he went, and influenced those around him. When I lost him, I had three or four times as many father figures step into my life. I had friends and family reach out and wish me Happy Father’s Day so that together, we could celebrate my dad.

 In just a year, I’ve learned that grief comes and goes as it pleases but joy is always there; it’s a self-existing emotion that often hides itself in the cloud of grief but will come out to shine when summoned. Be the sun that brightens your day; find happiness in the thoughts that count. Thank you to my friends and family that texted and called; you’ve made my Father’s Day the warmest and most joyful that it could possibly be.

 Today, I’ll be calling not only my mother, but also all my pseudo-fathers. Share your joy with others and reach out to those around you. A kind note, text, e-mail, call, even Facebook comment goes a long way. Know that Father’s Day isn’t just to celebrate dads, but really those who’ve positively influenced and guided you.

 Of course, I won’t end this post without saying Happy Father’s Day to my dad – Rajiv Agarwal – whose memories are like stars in the sky, there in beautiful, abstract space, shining bright, and making me smile. 

I Cannot Bear Not to Help Cancer Patients

This past weekend, I went to the Farmer’s Market and I saw a booth for children fighting cancer. They had a great fundraiser going on. The organization was selling little bears to stitch and decorate. The donator had the choice of giving it to a child with cancer or they could pay a few extra dollars and keep the bear. The second option was more for the little kids who participated, but still all of the profits went to the cancerous children so it was a win-win situation!

Every time I see a cancer fundraiser, I cannot bear (pun intended) to not participate in it. I remember when my dad was in the hospital, some volunteers gifted him a small pillow they stitched. He actually used it every single day when he was in the hospital and when he was on Hospice. Eventually, we had an inside joke about it and now every time I think about it, I smile. Cancer patients honestly adore and appreciate the little crafts volunteers do. A small piece of fabric, some stuffing, a thread, a needle, and your time can go a very long way. I know that this bear will make a child’s heart very happy!

Here are some pictures from the activity.

The pieces of fabric my friend and I used to sew the bear and decorate it.

The pieces of fabric my friend and I used to sew the bear and decorate it.

Writing a message for the cancer patient.

Writing a message for the cancer patient.

Writing a message for the cancer patient.

Writing a message for the cancer patient.

Drawing the face on the bear.

Drawing the face on the bear.

Meet Hope!
The front of the bear.

The front of the bear.

On the back of the bear, I wrote a message for the child. I wrote, “This is Hope. She will help you! You are so beautiful and strong. You will make a strong recovery. The world is supporting you.”

The back of the bear.

The back of the bear.

Skin Cancer & Brain Tumor Awareness Month

Happy May! May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and Brain Tumor Awareness Month.

Here a few facts about Skin Cancer to raise awareness:

  • Skin Cancer is also called Melanoma
  • Symptoms are a change in a mole, an open wound that won’t heal, a cluster of bumps, and a mole larger than a pencil eraser
  • Skin Cancer is usually diagnosed through physical exams and skin biopsies
  • Surgery and chemotherapy are the most used methods to treat Skin Cancer
  • To prevent Skin Cancer, take care of your skin by knowing what products you apply on your skin and applying multiple layers of sunscreen every 2-3 hours

Here are a few facts about Brain Tumors to raise awareness:

  • Symptoms of a Brain Tumor includes: frequent headaches, feeling weak and dizzy, having seizures, double vision, unexplained vomitting, and difficulty walking
  • Brain Tumors are found through CT scans and MRI scans
  • Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy is used to shrink Brian Tumors and often times, multiple types of treatments are used

Always remember to apply layers of sunscreen multiple times a day and never to ignore anything unusual in your body. Cancer education is absolutely vital in society! Share this post with friends and family so together we can overtake the ‘C word’.

One Year Ago I Lost My Best Friend

I never actually thought this day would come. I was in such denial. I walked through the hospital doors and found  my dad’s room. The doctors told me what was going on. I watched everyone cry.  I took my dad home from the hospital to Hospice. I carried his bags to the car. I helped him from the wheelchair to the car. I watched the nurses cry when he left. I saw the pain in my dad’s face. I saw my dad on Hospice. I saw the Hospice workers explain the “Do Not Resuscitate Form” to my mom. I watched my mom sign it. I watched the nurse take my dad’s pulse for the last time, look at me and shake her head. I was there through it all, but I still never thought the day I would lose my best friend would actually come.

I watched it. I watched my dad die everyday. But one day, it actually happened. I think at first I was in complete shock. At 18 years old, I still didn’t understand what was going on in my life. I kept asking myself why was this happening to me. Why did I have to lose my dad- my best friend?

 

 

Relay for Life 2014

This past weekend, I was able to participate in Relay for Life at the university I am attending. Relay for Life is a 24-hour cancer walk held by American Cancer Society. Their goal is to fight back against cancer, celebrate those who have survived, and remember those who have lost their life to the awful disease while fundraising thousands of dollars.

Later on in the event, there is a ceremony called Luminaria. Luminaria is a time to remember and honor those who have passed away. The Luminaria ceremony was emotionally difficult for me. It was scary and weird to hear my dad’s name and see my dad’s picture during the ceremony. In the past years I have participated in Relay for Life, I never thought I would walk during the Luminaria lap in honor of my father.

I am so grateful my friends were right there next to me. They held me as we walked the Luminaria lap. It was so reassuring to know that I have a support system who empathizes with me, rather than sympathizes for me. Although it was a moment of deep mourning for my dad, I felt beyond thankful for those surrounding me and felt my heart fill with joy.

Relay for Life was such an amazing experience. I have mentioned this before, but just to reiterate, it is helpful to give back to the community. It’s a great way to cope with cancer. At events like this, you can share your story without being judged and have someone listen that knows what you have been through or are going through. I love volunteering through American Cancer Society (and the other organizations I am apart of). And to be completely honest, volunteering and helping people cope with cancer are some of the few things that get me through each day while grieving over my father. It brings a smile to my face knowing that I am changing someone’s life in one way or another.

Blogger and her Momma!

Blogger and her Momma!

Luminaria Bag!

Luminaria Bag!

Team Co-Captains of "We Cancervive"

Team Co-Captains of “We Cancervive”

Team Captains with President of Colleges Against Cancer

Team Captains with President of Colleges Against Cancer

Testicular Cancer Awareness Month

April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month! Testicular Cancer occurs in a man’s testicles.

Here are a few facts about Testicular Cancer to raise awareness:

  • Testicular Cancer is found in men usually between 15 and 35 years of age
  • 1 in 250 males will be diagnosed with Testicular Cancer
  • Risk factors for Testicular Cancer include: family history, undescended testicles, and kidney and penile abnormalities
  • Testicular Cancer can be tested through biopsies, ultrasounds, and blood tests
  • Some symptoms that should not be ignored include: a testicle with a lump, a swollen testicle, pain in a testicle or the scrotum, enlargement of testicle, heavy feeling in the scrotum, and aches in the lower abdomen, back, or groin area
  • Radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery can treat Testicular Cancer

Please share this post with friends and family because with more people educated on cancer, less people will be diagnosed! Stay positive!

One Year Ago I Found Out My Dad Was Going to Die

April 16, 2013. My world started falling apart. I walked into the Good Samaritan Hospital and felt my heart drop. I knew this was not just the regular doctor visit. I found my way around the hospital and came up to my dad’s room. When I walked in he yelled, ‘Lulu Lulu!’ (This nickname will be explained in another blog post.) I was so happy to see him and he was so happy to see me.

He was not doing well. He was very sick at this point. I knew something was wrong, but I wouldn’t admit it to myself.

Our family friend who works in that hospital came in my dad’s room. She walked me down the hall to get me some ice cream (I always see kids get unlimited ice cream at hospitals, so I simply asked!). We walked down the hall into the kitchen on the oncology floor. College decisions were due in two weeks, so we started talking about my options. At this point, I honestly didn’t give it much thought because my dad was getting more sick by the day. She asked me what college I wanted to go and what college my parents wanted me to go to. I answered with the college I wanted to go to and explained to her how I should go where my parents want me to. The college my parents wanted me to go to was really close to home and had a great reputation. I told her that I want to be close to home especially because of my dad’s health. She said, “Go where you want to go to college because your dad won’t see you go to college. Samira, your father is dying.”

I cried in her shoulders for a few minutes, wiped my tears, got myself ice cream and got my dad ice cream. I walked down the hall with a fake smile on my face and came into my dad’s hospital room excited to eat ice cream with him. Only later did I realize that this was going to be the last time I ate ice cream with him.

Throughout the day, he never said anything about him dying. I heard my mom crying on the phone outside his room to multiple people but she never really told me anything either because she was too busy dealing with phone calls and doctors, and of course my father’s needs. One of our really good family friend took me to the library down the hall a few hours later. She sat me down and explained to me that this was real. She said that this is it. She said explained to me that the chemotherapy stopped working and there is nothing else the doctors could do. I asked her a few questions and she answered. We just sat there in silence for sometime. I cried for sometime. I walked back to the hospital room to find more of my family friends. Some of our other very good family friends sat in the car while I drove to her house to spend the night with her daughters, whom I consider my sisters.

I could barely drive because I was crying so hard. My head was pounding. I couldn’t think straight. I felt like throwing up. I stopped by at my house to feed my dog and pick up my stuff to spend the night at their house. My mom was living in the hospital with my dad and my sister was in the East Coast at this point.

I came to my family friend’s house and walked  into her room. We looked at each other and neither of us said a single world. I just started howling. I cried and I cried. I tried to throw up. Nothing came out because I didn’t eat anything the whole day. I drank some water and took some Advil. I fell asleep crying in my family friends arms.

 

Happy Birthday, Daddy

My dad was truly an amazing person. He was the life of every party, the captain of every team, the sunshine on a cloudy day, the tickle monster when in a grumpy mood. He made every guest and every relative feel so at home in his house. He was the most generous and selfless man I had ever met in my life. My dad never forgot anyone’s birthday or anniversary. He was a best friend to many people and always helping others. He never showed his pain while going through chemotherapy. He was always smiling, whether it was during the economic recession or the day he was admitted to the hospital he was making some sort of joke. He made his last joke within the last hour of his life. His last words were thank you.

So, thank you dad. Thank you for teaching me everything important in life. Whenever I would fail a test, you would actually laugh at me and say, “Let’s make a bet on you failing the next one.” Thank you for showing the importance of hope and positivity. Thank you for hiding your pain during the last month of your life to make it easier for your friends and family. Thank you for the being such a caring husband, brother, and son. Thank you for being the greatest dad any little girl could ever ask for.  Thank you for being my hero. Thank you for leaving your legacy, and I promise I will live by it now. And, Happy Birthday.

Happy birthday to the man who inspired this blog!

Happy birthday to the man who inspired this blog!