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.

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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

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/.

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!

Coping Strategy #9

Art Therapy!

Something that always calms me down and gives me time to gather my thoughts is anything artsy or craftsy! I have learned that this really helps when coping with your parent’s cancer.

Recently, I started scrapbooking memories of my dad so I could hold on to them and cherish them forever. DIY (Do It Yourself) projects are also fun because you get to be as creative as you want and you save money! There are a ton of DIY projects that could help cancer patients too! For example, if your parent or loved on is going into surgery or is in the hospital, you can sew them a little pillow and blanket with a pattern that they would appreciate. They would also feel more ‘home-y’ and less ‘hospital-y’. Another great example is knitting beanies or something similar for patients who have lost their hair.

If you have a sick parent, grandparent, etc. I think it would be therapeutic to do an art project with them. This way, both parities can let out emotions while creating memories during a tough time. Studies show that art therapy helps a sick patient by reducing anxiety levels, improving social skills and communication, and controlling the pain in a better way.

Stay positive and keep spreading those smiles! For more DIY ideas for cancer patients, email copingwithcancerforkids@gmail.com!

Coping Strategy #8

Group Therapy!

Group therapy is a great option if you don’t feel comfortable talking to a specialist one-on-one. Group therapy is also much more affordable. Humans are social beings. It’s easy to talk to one another in a group. Also, in group therapy you will feel more secure and less alone compared to alternative treatments. You see other kids dealing with a similar situation. When you start telling your story, the group members will understand your problem and relate to it. Having so many perspectives listen to your story, may even change your perspective in a positive way! After saying your feelings in this group, it will be much easier to communicate with your friends and family on this topic as well.

I have heard great things about group therapy and I recommend it for those who are ready to seek help! Stay positive!

Coping Strategy #7

Therapy!

Having a sick parent is tough. It’s also frustrating, sad, chaotic at times, depressing, scary and much more. It’s hard to cope with all of those feelings, while living a life. It’s also a challenge to keep those feelings separate from your school and social life.

I highly suggest talking to someone. It’s too unhealthy to keep all those negative feelings bottled up. Therapy is a great option to let it all out. Saying your feelings outloud to a specialist will help you feel better and more secure. I’m also sure that your parent’s oncologist knows of programs you can join or someone to talk to. You could also talk to your school counselor or any teacher. For that matter, you could talk to any adult that is willing to just listen! Talk to your friends if you don’t feel comfortable talking to an adult. Just talk to someone! You will feel better afterwards.

If your parent is in the hospital or under Hospice Care, they will have social workers for you! If they haven’t already reached out to you, give them a call and see what they can offer to you. Some insurances also cover a few free therapy sessions, so check that out as well.

Therapy can be time-consuming and challenging at times, but the outcome is worth it. Remember to do your research about the therapists near you if you plan on seeking that help! Stay positive!

Coping Strategy #6

Go to Sleep Happy!

Like I mentioned in blog posts before, sleep is very important! Everyone just  performs better at daily tasks with their full amount of sleep. I think it’s really important to go to sleep happy (or as happy as you can be under the circumstances). Before you go to sleep, think of atleast three things you’re thankful for. I recently started doing this and it’s been helping me.

If someone made you unhappy that day, try to let it go or even confront them to get it off your chest. Finish all your goals for the day to feel accomplished and ready for the next day.

Go to sleep in a positive mood. Don’t fret over the little things. Be thankful for what you have. Sweet dreams!

Coping Strategy #5

Music!

Listening to music is beneficial. Having creative lyrics to listen to helps find yourself and explain those feelings in a way that you could not have put in words. Not only is listening to music helpful, but writing music is a great creative outlet to help cope with hard circumstances. Music lowers stress and anxiety levels. The stress hormone, cortisol decreases with music, leading to a more positive mood and outlook on life. Through research many psychologists have found music therapy helps build self-esteem, confidence, and cognitive functioning.

My dad and I loved playing guitar together. I will always cherish the memories of us sharing our enthusiasm for the instrument. Over the last few years, my guitar madness has diminished as school took over my life. The few times I still play the guitar, it calms my emotions down and brings back amazing memories of my dad. Playing an instrument is therapeutic- you get to forget what’s happening with your parent’s cancer and you focus on your music.

Music is a great escape from the real world. It lets your brain take an imaginative route away from your parent’s cancer.

Coping Strategy #4

Pet Therapy!

During such a hard time in your life it’s important to have your escape and your “me time”. Something that may help you is pet therapy. It helps your emotional, social, and cognitive functioning while releasing stress. Remember that your family is going through a whole lot of pain and stress, so it is important to support them as much as possible.

In my family, it was time for me to gain an indefinite amount of independence and control my emotions to help my family in every possible way. I always felt like I had to hide the emotions the “C word” caused because I thought it was more important if I were my parents’ support system. Only in the past few weeks I realized I had the right to feel the way I do. I started doing things for myself. Sometimes I just randomly go to the dog park (without my dog, because he’s so big I can’t handle him) and watch the dogs play because it makes me happy. Sometimes I just sit next to my big, furry four-legged friend and my worries go away. Sometimes (more like all the time) I look at pictures of my dog because he’s so cute and no matter how sad or mad or angry or frustrated I am with the world, he’ll always bring a smile to my face.

Pet therapy not only helps us kids with a parent with cancer, but it helps our sick parent too. My dog, Duke and my dad were best friends. My dad called Duke his son and made jokes referring to how he liked my dog better than his two daughters. I strongly believe during the two years my father was sick, one of the things that kept him motivated to fight the cancer was Duke. Duke had a positive effect on my dad that no one will forget. Dogs sense when something is wrong. Usually when my dad walked in through the front door, Duke would greet him by jumping on him and licking his face. During the last three months of my dad’s life, Duke knew my dad couldn’t handle his jumps anymore. When my dad was in Hospice Care, Duke would calmly sit next to him and not bother a single soul. (Duke is about 115 pounds and one of the most jumpy, friendly, rambunctious dogs ever. For him to just sit is rare.) I wish I could thank Duke for everything he’s done for my dad.

Coping Strategy #3

Sleep!

Sleeping is an essential part of the human body’s daily routine. We often forget how important our sleep is because most of us are too busy thinking about a bigger problem- our parent’s cancer.

  • Infants should get about 14 hours of sleep.
  • Children and teenagers should get about 9-10 hours of sleep.
  • Adults should get about 8 hours of sleep.

Getting the right amount of sleep makes learning new things and memorizing much easier. It also helps stabilize your metabolism and blood pressure. Your irritability and mood swings significantly decrease. Sleep keeps your cardiovascular system and immune system healthy as well.

When you find out your parent has cancer (or there was a change in the chemotherapy, chemotherapies aren’t working, your parents’ life is coming to an end, etc.) it is natural to feel unbelievably tired. The day I found out my dad was dying I cried so much and my head was throbbing a ridiculous amount. I fell asleep really quickly but I had a very hard time staying asleep. I probably woke up every single hour. I ended up waking up every hour when my dad was on Hospice Care. I also woke up multiple times when my dad was sick and an excessive amount the few days after a chemotherapy cycle. I still wake up every single hour while coping with my father’s death. I feel so tired during the day and I am always lacking energy now. All I want to do is sit around and have a pretend conversation about my dad.

But then, I had a realization. I seriously needed to get my life together. I started trying a lot of things to make me tired during the day and relaxed at night leading to a good nights’ sleep.

I started having tea after dinner to help me relax. (Obviously the tea is decaffeinated) I still have my tea and I love it! I usually have the Chamomile tea (Sleep Time Tea) from Trader Joe’s or the decaffeinated tea from the brand, “Mighty Leaf”. Mighty Leaf has delicious flavors like Organic African Nectar, my favorite! The two weeks after my dad passed away consisted of spending time with family and listening to everyone give their condolences (which is very tiring). I started going back to school which was also very draining for me because I had so much make up work. Going to school also took out all of the energy in my body to fake my smile and pretend I was okay considering not a single person understood my pain. Summer came around and there were enough house errands and family members to see to exhaust me. The days I had nothing to do, I found a hobby, like practicing an instrument or exercising.

Sleeping the full 8-10 hours is part of being healthy and being kind to your body. If you’re having trouble sleeping at night and all you think about is your sick parent, take some time for yourself before you go to bed. Have a bubble bath. Maybe try some delicious tea. You could even do yoga or journal!

Remember you have the right to feel the way you feel. Having a parent with cancer is one of the hardest things to overcome. Don’t let your worries and concerns affect your sleep. It’s important to wake up refreshed (and be ready to deal with the new day’s emotions). It’s  vital to keep your body healthy when trying to make your parent’s body healthy. Never forget about yourself and your needs.

Coping Strategy #2

Yoga!

Yoga is an activity that has become popular only recently worldwide. From Hinduism to Buddhism to Jainism, yoga spread across the globe. Yoga is used for meditation and to find peace within oneself. It was first practiced in ancient India to portray ritual discipline. In india there are three types of yoga:

-Karma Yoga: The yoga of action

-Bhakti Yoga: The yoga of devotion

-Jnana Yoga: The yoga of knowledge

Yoga is known to be a holistic healer and the key to balance out stress hormones. It also strengthens your cardiovascular and muscular system as well as your posture. The great thing about yoga is that anyone can do it! The exercise gives you the time reclaim your emotional stability as well as your mental and physical health. The key is to breath deep (and full) breathes while coordinating those breathes with the motions of your body. There are many different types of yoga positions. Some require sitting, some reuire standing, some require flexibility and some don’t. You can do yoga anywhere- you can take a class at a gym or you can do it in your own backyard looking over a view.

Here are a few websites to help get you starter:

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-682/Yoga-Poses-for-Beginners-Howto-Tips-Benefits-            Images-Videos.html

http://yoga.about.com/od/yogaposes/An_Index_of_Yoga_Poses.htm

http://www.myyogaonline.com/poses

Remember to go slow when you begin, practice with an instructor, and warm up properly!

Coping Strategy #1

Journal!

Journaling (or keeping a diary) really does help anybody with any kind of problem. No matter how old you are too! Many people don’t feel comfortable talking to others about their problems so this is a proactive way to cope with your feelings while respecting your privacy of keeping it to yourself. Journaling really does help manage stress and heal negative feelings. Once you have one idea going it is easy to keep on writing! Journaling also decreases the risk of asthma and arthritis, while improving cognitive function and the immune system! Drawing pictures in a journal also significantly helps. Take a quick five minutes out of your day to journal! One could even do five minutes of journaling every few days and it will still help manage your stress and cope with your feelings.