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!

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.