Happy #GivingTuesday!

Today is one of the best days of the year – #GivingTuesday. #GivingTuesday is worldwide philanthropic movement to push for donations after a materialistic weekend with Black Friday and Cyber Monday. As many know, I dedicate my free time to Camp Kesem. Camp Kesem is a non-profit organization that supports kids aged 6-16 years old through and beyond their parent’s cancer. There are over 3 million kids that have been touched by their parent’s cancer.

Camp Kesem is full of amazing, selfless, mature, and genuine volunteers that have all faced adversity and have a heart full of love ready to help these kids. I joined this organization my freshmen year of college (just months after losing my dad to cancer) and now as a senior in college, I reflect on my college career and I have no doubt that Camp Kesem saved my life. I met other college students and kids of all ages that understand me in ways others cannot. I have met some of my best friends through this organization and made amazing memories. Learn more about Camp Kesem: http://campkesem.org/

My chapter’s goal is to raise $15,000 on #GivingTuesday and $150,000 throughout this year. Please help me reach my goal to help these kids who have been affected by cancer by donating: https://donate.kesem.org/fundraise?fcid=787614

Until there’s a cure, there’s a camp. 

What Losing Two Grandparents within 8 Days (After Losing a Parent) Taught Me

Towards the end of the summer, while I was mentally preparing for my final year of college, I lost two grandparents within 8 days — my dad’s dad and my mom’s mom.

When I first found out my grandpa passed away, my immediate thought was that my dad has somebody there with him now. I told some family members and close friends about my immediate thought and all of them said something along the lines of, “Wow, that’s such a great way of looking at this.” I was able to digest both of my grandparent’s deaths much easier compared to my father’s death. Realistically, I will never be able to fully digest and grasp my father’s death because in my eyes it was an unfair, painful, and tragic death that he, nor my family, did not deserve. Of course losing anyone in your life is a tough battle that no one deserves. I was able to accept the fact that my grandparents lived a full, happy, and healthy life. Neither of their deaths happened to be too painful and I am so very thankful for that. Knowing my dad suffered and knowing he was in so much pain during the final months of his life will always kill me inside. Every single time I think about the pain he was in, I feel sick to my stomach and somehow blame myself.

Losing my father before two of my grandparents taught me even more about life. It taught me that everyone has their time to ‘go’; everyone has an expiration date in this life we live. I will always question sickness and death, but my life experiences have taught me how to deal with it. After I saw my mom lose my dad three years ago, and then lose her mom this last summer, I knew how to comfort her. I knew what she needed and I knew I had to support her and other members in our family, just like how all of my family members supported me (and still support me) through my dad’s death. I will always miss my grandparents but I know they are resting easy, and I feel so much comfort knowing my dad has some company now, too.

My Magical Week: Camp Kesem 2016

As many know, I dedicate all of my free time to an organization that supports kids who have been affected by a parent’s cancer, Camp Kesem. Camp Kesem has changed my life in so many positive ways. I have found mentors who I trust telling every detail in my life to and some of my best friends.

This year I was the unit leader for the teenage girls, aged 15-16 years. I feel so humbled and blessed to not only to get to know the girls that were in my unit, but also to be a mentor, friend, and role model to them.

 

I have an amazing and selfless support system, consisting of friends and family, who truly took care of me while my dad was sick and during his passing. My support system stopped their lives to take care of my mom, my sister, and myself. I know that I can still rely on them for whatever hurdles I have to overcome. My dad’s close friends and family are always so open to talking about my dad and about cancer when I need a therapeutic and valuable conversation to uplift any negative feelings.

After volunteering my time to Camp Kesem for the last three years, I have realized that not everyone has a support system like mine. This realization pushes me even more to dedicate my time, energy, and feelings to these kids who are in dire need of a support system, or someone to just listen to them vent about the adversity they face.

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Our camp advisor, Baloney, explains Camp Kesem as the revenge on cancer. When she told me that, it really stuck with me and now that is how I explain Kesem to others. Camp Kesem is a safe place for kids to have fun and be kids again, but more importantly a chance for them to talk about to about cancer and their feelings about the deadly disease.

I felt such a deep connection to the kids in my unit and to the new counselors that have joined the Kesem family! I remember when I was a freshman and sophomore, I would look up to the older counselors with the utmost respect (and continue to do so) and after growing up with Kesem, I finally feel like I am becoming a mentor to the new counselors. These post-camp feels make me rejuvenated with a happy heart! I am so beyond thankful for the experience and I cannot wait until next year!

Father’s Day… I Survived Another One

Happy Father’s Day to all the amazing, inspiring, strong fathers out there! I am so thankful for all of the father figures I have. Thankfully, the last two Father’s Days I have been volunteering at Camp Kesem so I was distracted from the pain of not having a dad to celebrate. Today I spent the day with my dad’s family at a winery. I had the perfect day and I am forever thankful for the support system I have. Of course, I wish I had my dad so I could celebrate him and his amazing soul, but I have so many father figures to celebrate. I would say the hardest part of Father’s Day is watching everyone post about their dad on social media. On days like this, it is best to stay off of social media and stay busy! Happy Father’s Day again to all the dads out there!

 

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My dad’s family and I celebrating Father’s Day at a winery!

 

 

Three Years Later: My Broken Heart

Today is my dad’s three year death anniversary. I still feel the broken heart. I think of my dad and his lively personality and selfless heart and genuine smile, and I feel a broken heart. There are no words to describe this feeling, but all I know is that my heart is broken. It is so broken. I still miss my dad so much and I wish I knew how to cope with this feeling. Sometimes I cope by trying to keep myself so ridiculously busy so I just numb out the pain and sometimes I try so hard to feel my feelings and cry everything out. No matter what coping mechanism I use, I still feel my broken heart.

I feel my heart sink every single time I think about the pain my dad was in. I feel my heart sink every time I have the urge to call him (which has been quite frequent recently). I feel my heart sink knowing he won’t be there for the major life events. I feel my heart sink knowing that so many people go through this.

Three years later, my heart continues to sink and I continue to miss my best friend.

The last three years have flown by, but there are those days where I feel like everything is going by so slow and my grief is so deep and my pain is indescribable. Despite it all, I am still so proud of myself. In the last three years, I have accomplished so much for my academic and professional life, while learning so much about personal growth and my soul. I wish I could share all of it with my dad. Every single day when I’m walking to class, or work, or extracurriculars, I have this urge to call him. I keep staring at my phone secretly hoping I’ll see his name pop up calling me.

Although I take pride in the person I am today, there are so many days where I want to throw in the towel. Sometimes I am just so exhausted from…school, jobs, internships, and life.

Three years later, and I still need time to grieve. I still need time to digest all my life changes. 

I hate to admit it, but much of my anger has yet to disappear. I have triggers that really set me off and I wish I could control it, but I cannot. Some of the smallest things make me so upset, or sad, or emotional. I am still pretty sensitive and I noticed as soon as my dad passed away, I became so sensitive, self-conscious and lost all of my self-esteem. Although my self-esteem is slowly but surely coming back, I am now struggling with aspects of life that I never used to struggle with.

Three years later, and I am trying to find the self-esteem that was lost. 

Three years later and I am still grieving. Like I have written about before, grief doesn’t get easier but you get stronger. In the grand scheme of things, three years really isn’t that long. I take full pride in the person I am today. I am still as motivated and driven to constantly give back to the cancer community. At the end of the day, I am so happy with who I am, the people in my life, and how everything has panned out. Days like today push me to do some extra reflection and I am just so thankful!

Three years later, I still feel the broken heart, but I continue to grieve in a healthy way and progressively move forward with the amazing life I was blessed with. 

 
Today I had a picnic in SF and thought only the happiest thoughts about my dad.  

DNR: It’s Not Just a Form

DNR – It stands for Do Not Resuscitate. The DNR was created to help patients during terminal illness and it basically declines the patients of life-saving measures. I watched my mom sign this form the day my dad was admitted to hospice care and didn’t really understand it, but also didn’t have the energy to ask any questions about it.

Only later during the minutes of my father’s death, I understood what my dad told my mom to sign. It took my awhile to comprehend why my dad made this decision (and why mom supported it), and now I see how selfish I was being. I wanted my dad to live longer, but he was in so much excruciating pain. Of course he didn’t want to be living in more pain and now that I understand that and the point of a DNR, I feel much more at peace.

 

Signing a DNR is a patient’s choice. My recommendation is to support your parent or loved one in whatever decision they make. The sooner you realize the point of a DNR and where your parent/loved one stands on it, the situation becomes easier to cope with and the death becomes more peaceful.

Happy Birthday, Daddy: Part Three

Dear Dad,

Happy birthday! I miss you… I miss you so much every single day. Your birthday has always been an emotional day for me because it reminds me of your amazing personality and how much I want you back in my life. Around this time of year I can feel my broken heart.

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I really want you to know that I’m finally happy (or at least getting there). I tried so hard these past couple of years to be happy for you, but now I’m happy for me. I feel like I’m focusing on my life and my future finally. I’m living for me. In the past few years I felt like everything I was doing, I was doing for you and now in the past few months, everything I do, I do for me. Of course I always have you in the back of my mind in all my actions and thoughts and of course I miss you deeply, but I also really missed myself during these past few years. The part of me that died with you is finally coming alive again, and that is my birthday present to you. I know this is what you would have wanted. I can’t wait to see you again, happy birthday!

XO,

Lu

 

2 Years of Cancernomics + 27 Days of Canculture

27 days. I had 27 days from the time I found out my dad was going to die until the moment he took his last breath. 2 years earlier, my dad was diagnosed with fourth stage colorectal cancer in May of 2011. There are two costs that come with a cancer diagnosis – the financial cost and the emotional cost. There’s the price of the overly expensive chemotherapy drugs, surgeries and weekly doctor appointments. And then there is the price of pain and grief. Apart from these costs, there is another underlying factor that is often overlooked: culture. Cultural differences are conveyed uniquely within cancer-affected families and furthermore, America’s money-driven culture is clearly exemplified through healthcare costs and policies.

 

The United States spends up to $2 trillion annually on healthcare, about 18% of the nation’s gross domestic product and more than any other developed country. The costs are highest at the time of the diagnosis and towards the end of the patient’s life when the cancer is declared as terminal. According to the American Cancer Society, the U.S. spent $88.7 billion on cancer medical costs in 2011, 50% of which was spent on hospital and doctor visits, 35% on hospital stays and 11% on prescription drugs.

The economics of palliative care is much different than that of the cancer diagnosis. Palliative care costs consider other factors because this is a time where the doctors, the patient and the patient’s family have decided to stop treatment and rather focus on pain relief, in hopes of creating a sense of comfort during the last stages of life. 10% to 12% of health care spending is allocated to hospice care.

Many disease-fighting drugs have patents, mechanically creating a monopoly for a medication that should not be exploited if the creators have a heart whatsoever. Last September, Daraprim, a drug that fights cancer and AIDS, increased in price by 5,000% from $13.50 to $750 per pill, according to NBC News. Impax Laboratories (IPXL) acquired CorePharma, who originally created and owned the drug. After the $700 million acquisition, Impax Laboratories decided to surge the price of Daraprim. IPXL is a profit-seeking company that trades on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) for about $34 per share. IPXL also acquired Tower Holdings, Inc. and Lineage Therapeutics Inc. After studying the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that was filed for 2014’s fiscal year, it is evident that the CEO, G. Frederick Wilkinson, walked away with a salary of $862,793, 50% more than the rest of the executives, not including bonuses. However, with the 17% ownership of stocks that Wilkinson has, he truly walked away with $12,978,870 last year. In 2014, the company reported revenues of $596 million; with the latest price increases, IPXL’s 2015 revenue will increase by at least 35% purely from the increased prices of necessary drugs for cancer-stricken patients.

 

In my personal experiences, my family and I were willing to do anything, in hopes of giving my dad another day of life. My dad’s top-notch oncologist, Dr. Cabebe was experimenting different chemotherapies on his body causing severe side effects, side effects that created mouth sores, side effects that caused his skin to peel off of his hands and feet, side effects that made him throw up consecutively for three days after chemotherapy sessions, side effects that weakened his body. The excruciating mouth sores prevented him from eating any sort of food. Dr. Cabebe recommended a liquid medication to diminish this side effect. Unfortunately, our insurance didn’t cover the bottle of medicine. My family and I were at a point where we felt it was necessary to do everything in our power to give my dad the most comfortable life possible, despite the price; we paid for the medicine.

Cancer took my dad away from me, but it also created a lifestyle change, a lifestyle change that has reshaped my values and opinions on life and moreover, taught me the complex economics behind cancer.

 

As mentioned, the first cost of cancer that everyone considers is the chemotherapy medicines, hospital bills and doctor visits. But the cost of the pain and grief is something most families don’t take into account. There are so many sacrifices to be made when a cancer diagnosis comes into play. After facing this hardship, it is clear that the pain never goes away, but families become stronger. The pain of my dad’s death will never leave my soul, but I have gained strength. I have learned how to deal with my feelings in a healthy way. I have learned who cares about my pain and grief. I have learned who genuinely wants to help me get through the toughest of times. Grief cannot be explained in words or showed in monetary terms. It’s a heart-wrenching feeling that portrays the price of love. There is no humanly possible way to ‘get over’ the death of a loved one, especially after seeing him/her sick and suffer for a long period of time. Terminal cancer patients’ loved ones usually start their grief during the hospice days because during this time, the patient is slowly dying every single day; their bodies deteriorate; they sleep as much, if not more than infants; their organs start to fail and eventually their heart cannot beat anymore.

Everyday I witnessed my dad’s body weaken and smelled his rotting body. I remember him asking me to massage his legs and the second that I applied pressure with just one finger I could feel the fluids running through his body; it was like squishing gelatin. That is when my grief started.

 

Not only do the two costs play a factor into one’s cancer story, but culture also shapes cancer stories. The cultural aspect is something I never expected to conflict with, until my dad passed away. Most Hindu families transport the deceased body to India to perform the cremation ceremony and immediately disperse the ashes in the holy Ganges River. Instead, all of my uncles flew from India the second my dad’s heart stopped beating. Two days later, we cremated my dad’s body near our home. My dad’s brother, my mom, my sister and I pushed the button that took his body into the cremation machine. My uncles flew back to India and pocketed his ashes to scatter into the holy Ganges River as soon as possible to follow Hindu traditions.

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Pictured is my mom, myself, my sister and my uncle in our backyard during my dad’s funeral. 

The cost of the pain and grief cancer carries is indescribable and cannot be quantified. The more apparent expenses of cancer, including the hospitals, doctors and more, cost the U.S. over $88 billion annually. Although the financial burden, emotional pain and cultural differences bring so much more pain to a cancer diagnosis than anticipated, it also unlocks different perspectives. It matures patients and care takers. Through my adversity, I have discovered more about the meaning of life and what I value in my life and culture. Despite any sorrow I have faced, I will always be thankful for my experiences because each one has taught me something different about my life, my culture and myself. Cancer unveils cultural collisions that are buried beneath family dynamics, especially immigration. I would have never guessed how the financial burden of cancer, the emotional pain and cultural differences play a role in disease and death.

Grief Doesn’t Get Easier…You Get Stronger

I wish I could tell everyone that loses a parent at such a vulnerable age, that the pain becomes easier to cope with. I wish I could tell them the pain goes away… but it doesn’t. The pain will always stay with you. But there is a silver lining, and it’s that you will get stronger.

I have been going through so many changes in my personal life lately and figuring out what I really want in my life (hence the lack of recent blog posts). I’ve also been unbelievably  focused on my career goals over the last couple of months and through that, I brought myself to believe that I was completely done grieving. I kept telling myself to get back to the ‘old’ me. I kept pushing myself to my limit every time I was feeling low. I kept believing that my time for grieving was over. But in the last few weeks, I realized that the grief does not go away, nor does it get easier. I realized I can never go back to the ‘old’ me. The ‘old’ me had a different life – I was in high school with two parents. I didn’t have so many stresses of the real world. Due to the family dynamic changes and the move to college, there would never be an ‘old’ me again. I’m now coming to the conclusion that I’m making a ‘new’ me. I am making my life and figuring out who I want to be and what values I hold. I am figuring out how to create a career for myself. I am defining my own happiness.

 

Lately, I’ve been keeping my grieving moments more and more to myself. I can also finally talk about my dad in a positive and normal way. I don’t feel like I’m stepping on eggshells anymore. I always used to feel guilty talking about my dad to others because I thought I was putting friends/family in an awkward situation. And sometimes I still feel that, but I’ve learned how to get past that feeling of guilt. I’ve learned who I can talk to about my dad and I learned who genuinely cares about my feelings and my pain. I still break down about him and I still dream about him all the time, but I am so much happier with who I am and where I am in my life. Although I am still trying to figure a few things here and there, I’m finally starting to see my victories as accomplishments and my failures as steps to success. I have finally defined what happiness means to me. I can confidently say I have gotten stronger when it comes to dealing with grief and adversity. I’ve learned what I can handle and what I need to be able to get through tough times.

 

The most important thing is to take care of yourself and your mental health. I do what makes my soul smile and my heart happy, and I don’t care if I disappoint somebody or if somebody judges me for that anymore. Remember that you define your happiness and you are the only person who knows what you need. Realizing this, will help deal with any grief or adversity and make you stronger.

My [Unbiological] Sisterhood

What is Pi Beta Phi?

Pi Beta Phi is a women’s fraternity that holds 6 core values (integrity, lifelong commitment, honor and respect, personal and intellectual growth, philanthropic service, and sincere friendship) and aims to promote friendship, develop women of intellect and integrity, cultivate leadership, and promote social responsibility. 

In the beginning of my sophomore year of college, I went through recruitment for Greek life, and received an invitation to join Pi Beta Phi. 

So I only didn’t just join Pi Beta Phi because I wanted support for my cancer story I was struggling to cope with, but also support for normal college experiences that I didn’t get my freshmen year, because I honestly wasn’t mentally ready to go back to school. I didn’t know how to talk to people about, well, anything a part from cancer. I also didn’t know how to answer questions like, ‘how was your summer?’. None of those surface level conversations made any sense to me.

Sophomore year, I went into college with an open mind and positive attitude. Ever since freshmen year, I knew I wanted to be a part of a sorority. So, my sophomore year (when I was more mentally ready) I rushed Pi Beta Phi, the same sorority my sister was apart of during her college experience.

I was in complete shock when I saw true sisterhood traits in all of the members immediately after receiving a bid. When I posted “The Cancer Story” on my blog, the article immediately blew up. Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting a lot of support from my sorority sisters since I had just joined, but oh, was I very wrong. I immediately saw my fellow sisters sharing it on social media, commenting on the post, and more. And the support from this new chapter of my life felt so awesome. Later in the year, I was chosen to speak at Relay for Life. Once again I wasn’t expecting much of a turnout from them, but I was wrong. I looked into the crowd and saw so many beautiful and familiar faces from Pi Beta Phi. I then realized I only didn’t join just to make friends and have a better social life at school, but also gained an amazing sisterhood.

Later in the year, I went to a national conference for Pi Beta Phi where the politics and business of this organization was discussed and taught. I shared my story at one of the leadership workshops, which happened to be about resiliency and bouncing back from adversity. After I voiced my opinion and story, I saw applauding hands and teared eyes. I then understood that I don’t only have a sisterhood I can always rely on at my school, but also nation wide.

I will admit that with other organizations I am apart of, it is sometimes easier to connect to people on a much deeper level immediately, but in my sorority there are people who have been affected by cancer and have faced different types of adversity, and it’s always so awesome to share stories and inspire one another. Moreover, it’s a heart-warming feeling knowing that I have been an inspiration to those who have never been affected, and hopefully never will be. I’m so glad I joined this amazing sisterhood, and I can’t wait for our chapter to grow this upcoming Fall!

Writing Saved My Life

Writing saved my life. After my I lost my dad, I didn’t know how to have a conversation about anything else other than cancer, chemotherapy, hospice, and death. People constantly kept asking me questions about those and only those topics. No one in my family and close circle of friends were asking me about graduating from high school, or even starting the next major chapter of my life — college. And, so I kept answering those cancer-related questions time after time, and slowly my answers started sounding like they were coming from a monotonous, lifeless robot. Constantly hearing and answering heartbreaking questions at 18 years old made me think that this whole cancer thing was a societal norm. It’s only years later that I’m now starting to realize, that all of those questions and answers (which is just a small aspect of an ugly cancer death) is not normal for an 18 year old.

I felt like I couldn’t vent to anyone about my negative feelings and thoughts; but I never wanted to forget my goal, which was and still is, to always cope in the most healthy way possible.

I’ve always had an interest in blogs, especially blogs geared towards fashion and chic lifestyle enthusiasts, but I never thought about starting one myself. I actually tried to stay away from reading and writing about cancer at first, because everything I found to read about cancer was about the technical and scientific terms that I honestly didn’t care about at the moment. I was so tired of reading about the science of cancer. But cancer isn’t just about science and medicine because cancer doesn’t just cause bad cells. It causes emotions and heartbreak, strength and perseverance, hope and faith. Doctors, researchers, and scientists are always so proud for publishing cancer research in publications, which is groundbreakingly awesome because these findings provide a foundation for the advanced medicine and technology used on patients. But, what about the other half of the cancer story? The struggles, the tears, the fear, the depression, and so much more. I wanted to be the writer to the other half of the cancer story — the half that isn’t written about much.

So, I started writing because I felt like no one understood my pain, but more importantly, I didn’t want anyone else to feel as alone as I did. I started blogging just three months after my dad lost his battle…and then, my writing story goes on from there.

Writing saved my life. My blog was my best friend during my worst times. I could always count on my Macbook or my journal and fancy, ballpoint pen. Writing saved my life when no one else could — and I am forever grateful I found my favorite coping mechanism.

And for those struggling with finding their favorite coping mechanism:

I highly suggest trying to let your emotions out in a creative way — writing, painting, dancing, and the list goes on. You will then start to see the light during these dark times.

Another Magical Week at Camp Kesem: 2015 Edition

This past school year was my second year being involved in Camp Kesem. I had such an amazing time at camp this year, but unfortunately I had no time to write about it! Right after camp, I went to Chicago for a professional business conference — the vibes changed so fast for me! And directly from there, I went to Paris for my study abroad courses and traveled a little bit after that!

So, back to camp now…camp this year was incredible! I definitely got more out of camp this year in terms of my personal self and goals. It’s safe to say my sophomore year had it’s ups and downs, but it all led to stronger and deeper friendships within camp for me!

Purple Unit!

Purple Unit!

All the camp counselors!

All the camp counselors!

This year I felt a stronger connection with more kids, which was so rewarding! It was so fun seeing all of my campers from last year as well. Being apart of this rat-race type of life is overwhelming and exhausting, and camp is an escape from all of that. At camp, I’m surrounded by real people with real problems. I don’t have my phone to be updating my Twitter and seeing what my peers are up to on Instagram. I’m not anticipating for midterm grades that will mean nothing in my life in the long run. I’m not stressing over internship applications. I’m not even bothered by my own mediocre and trivial problems. I am just making sure every child at camp is having the best time and attempting to make an impact in their life. I’m reaching out to an overlooked demographic while also growing as an individual. One of my favorite things about camp is that one is so disconnected from the rest of the world, but so connected to inspiring individuals (counselors and campers) on a whole new level. Giving back to society, especially being so involved with Camp Kesem, is what gets me through the hardest times, and I can’t wait for camp next year!

To learn more about Camp Kesem check out my blog post from last year: https://copingwithcancer.org/2014/07/01/my-magical-week-at-camp-kesem/

To donate to Camp Kesem Davis: http://campkesem.org/ucdavis/donate-to-ucd

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: https://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.