My Biggest Fear

We all have fears in life — spiders, sharks, creepy men, etc. My biggest fear changed after I lost my dad to cancer when I was 18 years old. I wish I could say my biggest fear is something like spiders, but now my biggest fear is forgetting my dad.

My biggest fear is forgetting his voice. And his laugh. And his big smile. And the way he would say my name. And the way he used to play with our dog, Duke. And the way he used to say, “Good night, I love you” every single night, no matter how tired he was or no matter how late it got. And his generous and funny personality. And his weird cravings for the most random flavors of ice cream.

I now try to do everything I can in my power so that my fear doesn’t become a reality. I have an album saved on my computer of pictures of my dad. And, I often times look at these pictures. I think about my favorite memories with him and I always proceed by writing it down in a small journal. I also wrote down his favorite color, ice cream, type of car, and everything else I still remember. It’s now my Daddy Journal. I also have a few videos and recordings of his voice. These videos and recordings are my best friend when I am having a “Daddy Day”. A Daddy Day happens occasionally and it’s perfectly normal. It’s one of those days where I just can’t stop thinking about him and I miss him a little extra.

 

For those who have also lost a parent (or any family member) to cancer (or any disease):

If you also fear that you might forget the little details and big memories of your lost parent, then I highly suggest writing everything down and recording what you can. Although sometimes it might be heartbreaking to write these details down, it is one of the most comforting things to have when you look back at it on one of those Mommy or Daddy Days. Your parent would only want you to remember them in the most positive and delightful way, and not in a cancerous way.

Words

Talk in everlasting words
And dedicate them all to me
And I will give you all my life
I’m here if you should call to me

You think that I don’t even mean
A single word I say

It’s only words, and words are all I have
To take your heart away

These lyrics are part of “Words” by the Bee Gees. “Words” was one of the first songs my dad taught me to play on the guitar probably about 8 years ago. It is also the last song he ever played, which was just two days before he was admitted to the hospital.

These few lyrics mean the world to me. “Talk in everlasting words and dedicate them all to me” The reason I blog, the reason I get up every morning, the reason I try my hardest in school is for my dad. I dedicate my world to him. “You think that I don’t even mean a single word I say. It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away.” Words is what I use. It’s what I use to help people cope with cancer and it’s all I have.

Words are all I have to show the world that I would do anything to help those coping with cancer and words are all I have to tell the universe how much I really do love and miss my dad.

Happy Birthday, Mommy

I wanted to give a special birthday shout out to my beautiful and strong mother today! So, happy birthday to the woman who bent over back to take care of my dad during the lowest points of his life, who did everything in the world to keep this family intact and strong, and who has motivated me to follow my dreams and ambitions even without my dad in my life anymore. You are the strongest woman I know and I hope to be at least half the person you are today when I’m a mother. I love you so much!

Thank you for being the best mommy AND daddy!

My Trip Part Two: I had Realizations

In my last article, I wrote about my month long trip to India where I got out of my comfort zone, started to receive closure with my dad’s death, and coped with my negative feelings. After this month long trip, I have had a lot of realizations about my dad, my life, and cancer in general.

I realized:

  • that my dad had two lives- one in India and one in America
  • the extent of my dad’s pain and suffering for the two years he was sick
  • his sacrifices for his family (my mom, my sister, and myself)
  • his worries about my mom, my sister, and myself during his final days

Overall, I gained more insight in my dad’s life. The month I spent abroad and the realizations I made about my dad and my life have been life changing. Once again, I am so thankful for the opportunity that was given to me and I cannot wait for the next time to leave my comfort zone.

Here is a picture of me in a beautiful garden in India. This picture speaks for itself.

Here is a picture of me in a beautiful garden in India. This picture speaks for itself.

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?