Reconnecting with My Dad’s Past… In France!

Because going to France means so much to my personal life and my childhood, it was my goal to meet my dad’s really good friend from back in the day. In all my recent travels, I like to connect it back to my dad somehow because it helps me get closure with my tragic loss.

Dinner with my dad's friend colleague/mentor/friend

I reached out to someone who was a mentor, friend, and colleague to my dad — someone who had such a big impact on my dad’s life that I will ever forget. It was so fun to reminisce knowing my dad was smiling from up above. It is a night that I will never forget and that I am so thankful for! I love being reminded of who my dad was and what his personality was like, because often times cancer fogs that image. The reconnection made me love my Paris trip even more!

I’m in Paris! But…Where’s my dad?

I absolutely love thinking about my childhood — and traveling to Paris was a huge part my childhood. And, this summer I decided to go back to Paris and study an industry I potentially see myself in. I talked to a lot of people and questioned if this was the right decision. I was just so bored of summer internships, the same competitive conversations with my peers, and scheduled routines. I wanted to explore a new city by myself, grow as individual, learn a new culture, and of course immerse myself in specialized coursework.

When I first got into France by myself, I roamed around the neighborhood, ate at a really cute café, and rested! However, the next two nights I could not sleep at all and I was up all night thinking about my dad. See, France, and especially Paris was a special place to him, and to us. He came to Paris thrice a year in the early 2000’s, and my mom, my sister, and myself were brought along about once a year for awhile. Some of my most fond childhood memories are in Paris. Walking around the touristy landmarks, sparked a déjà vu I haven’t felt in awhile and reminded me of an aspect of my dad’s life that I haven’t thought about in awhile. Going from monument to monument, and place to place, it was like I was looking for my dad.

I think for the first two days of my trip, I had a difficult time adjusting because all I wanted to do was call my dad and tell him about my adventurous days. It kills me inside knowing that I can’t call him and tell him about the places I’m seeing, the food I’m eating, the people I’m meeting, and so much more. It kills me knowing that I can’t send him selfies of me outside the Eiffel Tower. It kills me knowing that he’ll never know I lived in Paris during my college career. But, I’M IN PARIS and it is so amazing.

Selfies with the Eiffel Tower

Selfies with the Eiffel Tower

I realized that at first when I leave my comfort zone, it will take me an extra day or two to adjust to my new surrounding. I also realized that the times I should be most happy, are the times I miss my dad the most.

Now, I am about halfway through my program, and I am loving every minute of it. Of course I miss my dad, and would love to tell him everything I’m doing, but I know that this is where he wanted me — following my dreams in a foreign place. I am falling in love with Paris, and now realizing why it was one of his favorite cities in the world, too.

Father’s Day – An Open Letter

Dear friends,

Happy Father’s Day – I was honestly inspired because I knew what was coming my way on Sunday. I was going to wake up to a flood of dad pics through social media feeds and a couple texts from family and friends. So, there are a few things I want you to know as we celebrate our fathers and father figures. See, I don’t feel the same pain that I used to on holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, and days like Father’s Day. I was always told that grief is the worst in its first year but I want you to know it’s just not as sharp. Now the loss of my father feels like a dull pounding. It’s not something that necessarily feels bigger or hurts more on Father’s Day but it’s something that throbs almost every single day. It’s the reaction to watching dads hold their baby’s hand on the street that makes me cry without realizing it. It’s the feeling I get trying to do my taxes or build furniture. It’s the urge to call my dad after my first week at a new job and it’s what makes me shake when I’m scared. It’s also a feeling that makes me smile when my friends tell me stories about their dads. It’s what makes me write cards to my mom and call all my uncles. It’s the emotion that drives me to make him proud every single day. The throbbing doesn’t just remind me that he’s gone but that he’s alive with what I choose to do and how I choose to do it. I talk to strangers (when it seems safe) because my dad did it and I don’t take things too seriously because really, I can’t think of a time my dad ever did. I try to make a difference because my dad did for countless people. Most of all, I try to live life to its fullest, even with that throbbing, because my dad lived every day like it was his last. A lot of who I am (for good and bad) is because of my dad and a lot of who you are is because of your dad. This is why Sunday isn’t the only day to celebrate your father and father figures – it should be everyday. It’s the little things that you do and say where you take after him. It’s something to be thankful for and something to put into words. Time is so valuable; it’s never too early or late to celebrate what makes life precious, like our fathers. And with that, I send everyone I know my best Father’s Day wishes and love.

Sincerely,

Devika (Samira’s sister)

The Last Two Years of My Grief

Today marks the two year anniversary of my dad’s death. These last two years of grief have been unexpectedly exhausting.

After I lost my dad, I felt like I was in a mental state ready to grieve, like it was a goal I was trying to accomplish. I recently realized grief is not a goal to accomplish, it is a state to adjust to and a feeling to feel. I realized that my pain and grief will probably never stop, it will just change over time.

Soon after my dad’s death, I read all about the 5 stages of grief. According to the famous Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the five stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I thought that if I went through the denial, anger, bargaining, and depression I would have to reach that acceptance. Oh, was I wrong. I went through a lot of denial, and maybe I’m still going through it. I went through a lot of anger and depression, something that I know I am still going through. All I knew was that I was so tired of going through these negative emotions. I wanted to know that all of this would lead me to acceptance and happiness. I thought that accepting the fact that I wasn’t happy would somehow lead to happiness. But, it’s such a roller coaster. I wouldn’t really say that there has been much smooth sailing, especially because I got so fragile. My heart already cracked when my dad was diagnosed with cancer and then immediately shattered when he passed away. It took every ounce of strength to tape my heart back together. But because all of the other major events going on in my life (like going to college and moving houses) I had to use really weak tape. So, when something bad happens to me that really isn’t a big deal, I would see it as a big deal and pieces of tape would fall off. I am only now learning how to cope with this.

Last year, I knew something was missing in my life and I missed my dad so much. I wanted to tell him everything that was happening in my life and I tried to make him proud of me. But, this year I feel heartache and sadness. I try to eat healthy, get a full night’s sleep, and do something everyday that makes me happy to cope with this heartache.

They say that young kids don’t understand that death is final and irreversible, but even when I was 18 years old I did not understand that. I kept expecting to see my dad pop up somewhere. I kept thinking that I would go home for the weekend from college, and he would be there waiting to greet me. I would day dream of my dad popping up in my life. Occasionally I still day dream, but not so much anymore.

I might have made some ‘mistakes’ and fell down a couple times, but I strongly believe that if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have grown in these last two years, especially this last year.

What’s Harder: Finding Out Your Parent Will Die or Your Parent Actually Dying?

Two years ago when I found out my dad was going to die, it never really hit me what was actually going on. But that week or so in the hospital hearing conversations about his not-so long future and listening to people try to prepare me for the worst, was exhausting and beyond difficult. Hearing those words over and over again…”Samira, your father is going to die… Samira, you don’t have much time with your dad, go spend time with him… Samira, be happy around your dad — he doesn’t have much time… Samira, get this for your dad… Samira, get that for your dad…Samira, do this for your dad…Samira, do that for your dad…”

I had no choice but to hold myself together for my family, specifically for my dying father and crying mother. I had to be the adult and I had to be put together. I had to coordinate meals and visiting hours. I had to somehow balance my last semester of high school while living in the hospital. I had to deal with the girls gossiping about me at high school. I had to deal with doctors either treating me like an 8 year old or a 38 year old, but never an 18 year old. But how do you deal with an 18 year old in a situation like this? And how does an 18 year old deal with this?

The thing was that my dad was so much more than just a dad to me. He was my best friend — a person I saw as my hero and role model, but also a friend I could confide to. We shared a special bond that was so magical and indescribable.

From what I’ve seen (through personal experience) a cancer death usually consists of a timeline like this: the patient starts at the hospital because of dehydration or something along those lines and he/she maybe tries one more chemotherapy session or something, and then the waiting game starts — Hospice care (either at home or in a facility).

I never know what’s harder to cope with – finding out your parent will die, or your parent actually dying. I think the day my dad passed away I was in an incredible amount of denial, and some of that denial still lingers on today. The day I found out my dad was going to pass consisted of more shock. I’m not sure which is harder, all I know is that both are unbelievably hard. Moreover, watching your parent in Hospice and die everyday is a whole different set of emotions for another blog post, another time. All of it is a series of unfortunate events. You would think that nothing is worse than loosing your parent at an age like this, but finding out about the upcoming death is arguably worse for some.

You can learn more about my story here: http://copingwithcancer.org/2014/04/16/one-year-ago-i-found-out-my-dad-was-going-to-die/.

Happy Birthday, Daddy Part Two

To my Dearest Dad,

Happy happy happy birthday. Not a day goes by without you crossing my mind. Saying that I miss you and love you is an understatement, and something that is known to this world.

Today, and every 14th of April from this year onwards, I vow to celebrate you; to celebrate a man who’s life defined the word sacrifice, to celebrate a man who portrayed generosity in every single action; a man who was strong and courageous about his cancerous death; a man who treated his wife like a true queen, and his daughters like princesses. It will be a constant reminder to myself of the happiness and positivity you brought into my life. I will take the lessons you taught about living life to the fullest and exemplify them. I will do something out of my comfort zone and different to celebrate you and your life.

This year, I decided to get your signature tattooed on my back, left shoulder. And you know me — it’s a hassle for mom to get me to get a simple blood test or a flu shot; extra nurses always have to hold me down even at 20 years old. But, getting a tattoo was different. I wasn’t scared because I was doing this for you. And when it did hurt, all I could think about was the pain you suffered for us, and somehow the pain of getting a tattoo disappeared. Anyway, hope you like it and please don’t be mad. But let’s be real, you’ve never really been mad at me, as much as you have wanted to at times.

My mom and I right after I got my tattoo of my dad's signature!

My mom and I right after I got my tattoo of my dad’s signature!

Love and miss you more each day, daddy-o… But you already know that. Party it up in heaven!

Love,

Your Lulu lulu

The Cancer Story

Disclaimer: I debated with myself for a long time whether I should publish this or not because I originally wrote this for a college assignment. Please keep in mind there is so so so much more to my story and remember that I am still going through my cancer story and still grieving. There are some things I still can’t talk/write about and not sure if I ever will be able to. I also highly suggest not reading this if your parent is currently battling cancer. 

I watched it. I watched him die every single day. I watched him lie in his hospital bed helplessly. I watched him talk to the Hospice workers about moving back home. I watched the Hospice workers explain the point of a “Do Not Resuscitate Form” and I watched my mom sign it. I watched him suffer to say just one word every so often. I watched him become skinnier than me, his underweight daughter. I watched him try with much struggle and determination to take a sip of Coke. I watched him agonize to eat half a spoon of yogurt. I watched him take his last breath. I watched my mom scream his name during the last minutes of his life. I watched my uncle give him CPR. I watched the nurse take his pulse, and just shake her head. I watched my dad die.

I watched strangers bring flowers into my home. I watched family come together for the first time in my life. I watched a real life experience.

Two years before this life-changing occurrence, my dad was diagnosed with the “c word”, or to what most people call it – cancer. I was 16 years old at the time; I was worrying about girls gossiping about my outfits and hairstyle, boy crushes, and of course, studying for the SAT. In a moment, I went from a daughter to a caretaker. In May of 2011 I started to sense something was wrong – I just didn’t know what. I would overhear my mom cry every night; my sister unexpectedly flew back from the East Coast for the whole summer; and I found multiple blood test forms signed ‘R. C. Agarwal’ at the bottom. My dad was 51 at the time, so I thought he was going through some extra check ups, since he was now ‘over the hill’. On a Sunday afternoon my mom came upstairs to my room and said, “Please come downstairs when you’re done with your homework. Dad wants to tell you something.” I immediately put my pencil down and slowly walked down the stairs with my heart beating like a woodpecker pecking at a fresh piece of wood. At that moment, I knew something more somber was going on. My dad sat my sister and I down and told us he had a tumor. He proceeded to explain that he didn’t know the details about it and he didn’t know if it’s cancerous. He did make a promise to the three of us – he promised that he would be okay. The tumor turned out to be fourth stage colorectal cancer.

At first, the cancer was responding perfectly to the chemotherapy. The doctors even said they might have misdiagnosed my dad! However, the tables turned in October of my senior year; while I was focusing on college applications and all of the exciting senior festivities, my ‘healthy’ parent became sick and my sick parent was worsening day by day. As I was leaving for my senior day of spirit week, I overheard my mom crying to my dad. Then, I heard the word surgery. My first instinct was that my dad needed a surgery. I ran to my dad crying and asked what all of this was about. It turned out that it was my mom who needed a surgery as soon as possible. She ended up having a long and complicated surgery because of pre-ovarian cancer and ovarian cysts. I vividly remember my dad and I waiting outside her room with an outrageous amount of chocolate and a bouquet of red roses. She spent the night in the hospital and came home the next evening. Later that week, my dad’s chemotherapy dosage became much more hazardous and life threatening.

During this time in my life, my responsibilities amplified. I was cooking, cleaning, taking care of both of my parents, and of course being a student. One day while I was cooking, I was struggling to open a jar of olives. I couldn’t open it, and if you were to ever see my scrawny arms you would know that I couldn’t even open a water bottle without some struggle. I looked at my mom, and all she did was shake her head, left and right. Then, I looked at my dad who was recovering from his last chemotherapy session and he tried, even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to open it. I tried opening the jar again and failed. I put it back in the fridge and continued cooking for us without the olives.

After the jar episode, I noticed my dad’s body starting to diminish. He was losing more weight than ever. One Tuesday afternoon I came home from school and immediately went upstairs to put my stuff down and change into comfortable clothes. I heard my dad yelling my name. I hustled downstairs anxiously to see if he was doing okay. I came downstairs to find an IV in his port and him holding this box with a little screen. I just stared in shock. The chemotherapy was currently running through his blood streams. I had never seen such a thing.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Oh, this is just some extra medicine. I have to keep it in for 2 days. Don’t worry; it’s not a big deal. I need your help. I need you to take my shirt off and fix the IV needle and then put a different shirt on and help me lay down.”

I was never so scared in my life. I was scared to touch him. I was scared that I would mess something up. And, I was scared that this was a sign of the cancer getting worse.

Every month his chemotherapy intensified, causing his side effects to worsen. On April 15th, 2013 my dad fell asleep downstairs on the couch. Around midnight, I heard excruciating yelling. He was crying, “I am in so much pain. Help me. Help me.” My mom and I had no idea what to do, so we carried him to the guest room bed and made sure he was comfortable enough to get some sleep for his chemotherapy the day after.

On April 16th, my parent’s 24th wedding anniversary, I texted my mom during my statistics class and said, “How’s dad’s chemotherapy going? Need me to pick up anything after school?” She replied, “He didn’t have chemotherapy. We’re at the hospital.” I said, “What’s going on? Is everything okay? Should I come after school?” She replied, “No, you can come tomorrow.”

At that point, I knew it was serious. It was pretty normal for my dad to be in the hospital, but no matter what chemotherapy session or procedure, he refused to spend the night in the hospital. Right after school, I drove down to the Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose and found my way to room 512. One of our family friends, who happened to be a doctor at the hospital, walked me down the hallway to get ice cream. College decisions were due in about two weeks, so she proceeded to ask me where I wanted to go for college and I explained to her that I wanted to stay close to home because of my dad’s health. She said, “Go where you want to go because your dad won’t see you go to college. Samira, your father is dying.”

The “c word” made me understand life in a whole new way. The tragic event led me to realize how much my dad sacrificed for his family. Cancer taught me what sick patients, no matter the disease or disorder, go through. It made me empathize with sick people across the globe. Being a caretaker at 16 years old forced me to make decisions, think, and act like a 36 year old. I matured to a degree that many adults have yet to reach. I watched my best friend take his last breath, but I also changed into a human who only wants to benefit society, specifically teenagers coping with a cancerous parent. The heartbreaking loss inspired me to start a blog (www.copingwithcancer.org) to touch peoples’ hearts. I take full pride in the person I am today, and I have no one but my supportive mom and late, selfless dad to thank for that. Whether my dad is physically with me or not, I am still motivated to follow my dreams and ambitions because I know he will always be in my heart.

Miss you more each day.

Miss you more each day.

Cuck Fancer.

What is Cuck Fancer?

Cuck Fancer. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness for young adults affected by cancer. Cuck Fancer. gives out financial aid to these young adults and hopes to add as many people as possible to the bone marrow registry to potentially save lives for those needing a bone marrow transplant. Cuck Fancer. was founded by Ben Teller when he was just 18 years old after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. After two transplants the last one saving his life, he realized that there is a lack of resources for young adults affected by cancer and a lack of potential donors for bone marrow transplants!

Ben Teller, the founder of Cuck Fancer.

Ben Teller, the founder of Cuck Fancer.

Cancer brings out many negative feelings, an infinite amount of tears and sorrow, and so much more than anyone is able to deal with, but cancer also brings out amazing and inspiring individuals like Ben Teller who strive to change the world and make a positive impact.

Get Swabbed with Be the Match Bone Marrow Registry!

To become a match, it’s a simple 3 easy steps and 5 minutes of your time:

  • Step 1: Fill out basic information packet
  • Step 2: Swab cheeks with cotton swabs
  • Step 3: Seal your packet and return it

Here are some statistics:

  • 12 million out of 7 billion people are in the national bone marrow registry – That’s only about 0.18% of the world!
  • 10,000 patients a year need a transplant

Cuck Fancer. believes young and healthy adults are the best potential match for the patients who need life saving transplants. Swab your cheek and save a life!! Check out http://www.marrow.org to find out more! Cuck Fancer. will be swabbing cheeks at UC Davis tomorrow at the quad, so come on by and give back to those who need it the most.

Cuck Fancer. will be on be at UC Davis for the next three days spreading awareness, selling apparel, swabbing cheeks, and lastly shaving heads to raise money! Check back with http://www.copingwithcancer.org to see how the three days went! Happy cheek swabbing!!!

Learn more about Cuck Fancer. on: http://cuckfancer.org/ and don’t forget to follow them on social media: https://twitter.com/cuck_fancer and https://www.facebook.com/cuckfancer!

Here are some of the guys that plan on shaving their heads on Saturday!

 

The Holidays With One Less Parent

Happy Holidays!!! This time of year is my absolute favorite! I hope everyone is enjoying their time with family and friends. This blog post is geared towards those who have lost a parent and are having a hard time enjoying this holiday season. (I highly suggest not reading this post if your parent is battling cancer at the moment.)

So, last Christmas I was actually out of the country for my father’s funeral services making this Christmas our first without him. My mom and I also moved houses about a year ago (more information about this move will be in another blog post), so this Christmas is also our first one in this house. It’s so weird to celebrate my favorite holiday without my dad and in a new house that has yet to feel like ‘home’ to me.

 

The holidays without your parent are incredibly hard. I know the situation is atrocious — everyone around you is jolly and loving this holiday season and all you can think about is how much you miss your deceased parent. I know it’s hard to put something so traumatic behind you during a time when you’re ‘supposed’ to be cheerful, but I suggest you try your best to. You deserve happiness and you deserve to enjoy this holiday season with the rest of your family. I also highly recommend to start a new tradition in honor of your parent. For example, this year onwards I will be going to local hospitals to drop off some goodies for the hospital staff and some patients because to me Christmas is actually about giving, rather than receiving materialistic gifts. My other tradition that I have already started is making little cancer ribbon ornaments with my dad’s initials painted on the side of them! I made a few for our tree and a few for my extended families’ trees.

The traumatizing event of losing your parent never gets easier to cope with, especially during the holiday season, but still try to enjoy it and treasure the time with the rest of your family. Go ahead and start a new tradition in honor of your parent! Merry Christmas!

Happy Giving Tuesday!

Happy Giving Tuesday!! Giving Tuesday is a worldwide philanthropic movement to push for donations after a materialistic weekend with Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This year I am supporting Camp Kesem! For those of you who don’t know what Camp Kesem is, it is a nonprofit organization run by student leaders supporting children through and beyond their parent’s cancer.

I Kesem because I understand what these kids are going through. I take full pride in the family that I come from and can never stop thanking the people who have supported me through the toughest time of my life, but unfortunately a lot of these kids who attend Camp Kesem as a camper cannot say the same thing.Happy Giving Tuesday!

It is my personal goal to help change these kids lives,  but I need your help! Camp Kesem raises over $90,000 to send these amazing and deserving kids to camp! It’s Giving Tuesday so give something back to your community today by donating here: https://campkesem.givebig.org/c/CK13/a/campkesem-ucdavis/p/SamiraAgarwal/

 

I am Thankful for My Father Figures

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!! This is my favorite time of the year — everyone sharing why they are thankful, the Christmas music in the stores, the smell of gingerbread cookies in my mother’s kitchen, and the generous, giving vibes floating around.

Here are a few of my father figures (and cousin) who have guided me through all my confused moments when I was in need of a dad.

Here are a few of my father figures (and cousin) who have guided me through all my confused moments when I was in need of a dad.

I’m so thankful for everything in my life, but I wanted to specifically thank all of my father figures and all of those who have been there for me through the thick and thin. I’m always looking for some advice and guidance, because ever since I lost my dad to cancer I have felt so lost. I always think, “am I doing this right?”

The great thing is that my dad died knowing I was being left in amazing hands to take care of me. He made sure that I had multiple father figures to take care of me, and give me some helpful daddy-advice whenever I was in a pickle.

It’s hard being in college without a dad because it feels like every single decision you make will determine your future. I am always so confused if I am involved in the right things, and if I’m taking the right classes, and if I’m even majoring in the major that’s for me. Thankfully I have amazing father figures to guide me through all my confused moments of life and will continue to guide me when I am in need of a daddy.

 

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.