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/.

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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.

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!

One Year Ago I Lost My Best Friend

I never actually thought this day would come. I was in such denial. I walked through the hospital doors and found  my dad’s room. The doctors told me what was going on. I watched everyone cry.  I took my dad home from the hospital to Hospice. I carried his bags to the car. I helped him from the wheelchair to the car. I watched the nurses cry when he left. I saw the pain in my dad’s face. I saw my dad on Hospice. I saw the Hospice workers explain the “Do Not Resuscitate Form” to my mom. I watched my mom sign it. I watched the nurse take my dad’s pulse for the last time, look at me and shake her head. I was there through it all, but I still never thought the day I would lose my best friend would actually come.

I watched it. I watched my dad die everyday. But one day, it actually happened. I think at first I was in complete shock. At 18 years old, I still didn’t understand what was going on in my life. I kept asking myself why was this happening to me. Why did I have to lose my dad- my best friend?

 

 

Relay for Life 2014

This past weekend, I was able to participate in Relay for Life at the university I am attending. Relay for Life is a 24-hour cancer walk held by American Cancer Society. Their goal is to fight back against cancer, celebrate those who have survived, and remember those who have lost their life to the awful disease while fundraising thousands of dollars.

Later on in the event, there is a ceremony called Luminaria. Luminaria is a time to remember and honor those who have passed away. The Luminaria ceremony was emotionally difficult for me. It was scary and weird to hear my dad’s name and see my dad’s picture during the ceremony. In the past years I have participated in Relay for Life, I never thought I would walk during the Luminaria lap in honor of my father.

I am so grateful my friends were right there next to me. They held me as we walked the Luminaria lap. It was so reassuring to know that I have a support system who empathizes with me, rather than sympathizes for me. Although it was a moment of deep mourning for my dad, I felt beyond thankful for those surrounding me and felt my heart fill with joy.

Relay for Life was such an amazing experience. I have mentioned this before, but just to reiterate, it is helpful to give back to the community. It’s a great way to cope with cancer. At events like this, you can share your story without being judged and have someone listen that knows what you have been through or are going through. I love volunteering through American Cancer Society (and the other organizations I am apart of). And to be completely honest, volunteering and helping people cope with cancer are some of the few things that get me through each day while grieving over my father. It brings a smile to my face knowing that I am changing someone’s life in one way or another.

Blogger and her Momma!

Blogger and her Momma!

Luminaria Bag!

Luminaria Bag!

Team Co-Captains of "We Cancervive"

Team Co-Captains of “We Cancervive”

Team Captains with President of Colleges Against Cancer

Team Captains with President of Colleges Against Cancer

Testicular Cancer Awareness Month

April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month! Testicular Cancer occurs in a man’s testicles.

Here are a few facts about Testicular Cancer to raise awareness:

  • Testicular Cancer is found in men usually between 15 and 35 years of age
  • 1 in 250 males will be diagnosed with Testicular Cancer
  • Risk factors for Testicular Cancer include: family history, undescended testicles, and kidney and penile abnormalities
  • Testicular Cancer can be tested through biopsies, ultrasounds, and blood tests
  • Some symptoms that should not be ignored include: a testicle with a lump, a swollen testicle, pain in a testicle or the scrotum, enlargement of testicle, heavy feeling in the scrotum, and aches in the lower abdomen, back, or groin area
  • Radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery can treat Testicular Cancer

Please share this post with friends and family because with more people educated on cancer, less people will be diagnosed! Stay positive!

One Year Ago I Found Out My Dad Was Going to Die

April 16, 2013. My world started falling apart. I walked into the Good Samaritan Hospital and felt my heart drop. I knew this was not just the regular doctor visit. I found my way around the hospital and came up to my dad’s room. When I walked in he yelled, ‘Lulu Lulu!’ (This nickname will be explained in another blog post.) I was so happy to see him and he was so happy to see me.

He was not doing well. He was very sick at this point. I knew something was wrong, but I wouldn’t admit it to myself.

Our family friend who works in that hospital came in my dad’s room. She walked me down the hall to get me some ice cream (I always see kids get unlimited ice cream at hospitals, so I simply asked!). We walked down the hall into the kitchen on the oncology floor. College decisions were due in two weeks, so we started talking about my options. At this point, I honestly didn’t give it much thought because my dad was getting more sick by the day. She asked me what college I wanted to go and what college my parents wanted me to go to. I answered with the college I wanted to go to and explained to her how I should go where my parents want me to. The college my parents wanted me to go to was really close to home and had a great reputation. I told her that I want to be close to home especially because of my dad’s health. She said, “Go where you want to go to college because your dad won’t see you go to college. Samira, your father is dying.”

I cried in her shoulders for a few minutes, wiped my tears, got myself ice cream and got my dad ice cream. I walked down the hall with a fake smile on my face and came into my dad’s hospital room excited to eat ice cream with him. Only later did I realize that this was going to be the last time I ate ice cream with him.

Throughout the day, he never said anything about him dying. I heard my mom crying on the phone outside his room to multiple people but she never really told me anything either because she was too busy dealing with phone calls and doctors, and of course my father’s needs. One of our really good family friend took me to the library down the hall a few hours later. She sat me down and explained to me that this was real. She said that this is it. She said explained to me that the chemotherapy stopped working and there is nothing else the doctors could do. I asked her a few questions and she answered. We just sat there in silence for sometime. I cried for sometime. I walked back to the hospital room to find more of my family friends. Some of our other very good family friends sat in the car while I drove to her house to spend the night with her daughters, whom I consider my sisters.

I could barely drive because I was crying so hard. My head was pounding. I couldn’t think straight. I felt like throwing up. I stopped by at my house to feed my dog and pick up my stuff to spend the night at their house. My mom was living in the hospital with my dad and my sister was in the East Coast at this point.

I came to my family friend’s house and walked  into her room. We looked at each other and neither of us said a single world. I just started howling. I cried and I cried. I tried to throw up. Nothing came out because I didn’t eat anything the whole day. I drank some water and took some Advil. I fell asleep crying in my family friends arms.

 

Colon Cancer & Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

March is Colon/Colorectal Cancer awareness month! Colon Cancer is cancer in the colon and Colorectal Cancer is cancer in the colon as well as the rectum.

Here are a few facts about Colon/Colorectal Cancer to raise awareness:

  • Colon/Colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in America
  • When it comes to cancer deaths, Colon/Colorectal cancer takes second place in America
  • 90% of Colon/Colorectal cancer patients are 50 years old or older
  • Colon/Colorectal cancer has a lot to do with family history- if your parent, sibling, child, etc. have had colon cancer, your risk increases by two to three times more
  • Prevent Colon/Colorectal Cancer with a healthy diet and regular check ups to the doctor, including a colonoscopy at the age 50 years
  • Some symptoms of Colon/Colorectal Cancer that should not be ignored include: changes in bowel movement, blood in stool, abdominal discomfort/pain/cramps, bloating, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss
  • Colon/Colorectal cancer can be diagnosed with a Colonoscopy or through CT scans
  • Colon/Colorectal cancer can be treated through chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery

About three years ago my father was diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer. Now that I see what cancer really does to a patient and to a family, I want to spread the knowledge and share with other the importance of going to the doctors when you feel sick. I would also like to emphasize to get a colonoscopy at age 50 with your yearly check up! This is so very important. Please do share this post, so that others can be educated on different types of cancers. Together, we can fight against cancer.

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!

World Cancer Day

Happy World Cancer Day! This day is not only dedicated to spread general knowledge about cancer, but to factor out myths and misconceptions about this deadly disease.

Here are a few cancer myths:

  • Undergoing treatment means you cannot do your usual activities and live a normal life– Undergoing treatment means things will change in your life. There is a high change there will be new norms to adapt to. However, you can still do the usual activities and try to live a life that is as normal as possible under the circumstances.
  • Every cancer patient gets the same treatment– Treatment comes in different shapes and forms. Common treatments include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Not all cancers get the same chemotherapy drugs. Also, even if the cancer is the same as the next person the drugs still might be different. Radiation and surgery are applicable to only some patients depending on the stage of the cancer.
  • To prevent skin cancer, one just has to apply one layer of sunscreen in the beginning of the day– It is really important to apply multiple layers of sunscreen throughout the day. Applying one layer of sunscreen in the morning won’t be much of a benefit if you are outside throughout the day. Skin cancer symptoms start appearing years later. Skin cancer is cumulative and stays in the deep layers of the skin. It’s extremely important to reapply sunscreen of SPF 15 or more and protect your skin.
  • Household bug spray causes cancer– This statement has been proven false. Using these products occasionally cause no harm and there is no relationship with cancer diagnoses.
  • There is a higher chance of being diagnosed with lung cancer when living in a polluted place, rather than being a smoker– Being a smoker causes a higher chance of being diagnosed with lung cancer than those living in a polluted place. Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer.
  • Some injuries cause cancer– One might go to the doctor for an injury and during the same time, the doctor finds a tumor of some sort. This does not mean an injury is the reason for the tumor. Also, if there was a bad injury earlier in life and cancer detection later on there is no way that the cause of the cancer was because of that previous injury.
  • Electronic devices cause brain cancer– Although many people believe this, there is no consistent finding that allows scientists and doctors to believe electronic devices cause brain cancer. Ionizing radiation may cause one’s DNA to change, leading to cancer. However, with smaller electronic devices there are no DNA changes.
  • Lifestyle changes won’t affect the chance of being diagnosed with cancer– A lot of things play the part of the reason of a cancer diagnosis. Often times, one could be lifestyle. An excessive amount of anything is bad for you. Too much alcohol can damage your liver. Too much smoking can damage your lungs. I believe everything is okay in moderation. It is important to limit yourself to the things you know that cause cancer. An important thing to have in your lifestyle to avoid cancer is of course exercise. Your lifestyle does play a role in the chances of being diagnosed with cancer. This is why it is vital for yourself to take care. It is important to eat right, exercise a healthy amount, and go to the doctors on a regular basis while getting the necessary tests.

National Cervical Cancer Screening Month

January is National Cervical Cancer Screening Month! Cancer-fighting organizations stress the importance of screenings for Cervical Cancer during this time.

Here are a few facts about Cervical Cancer to raise awareness:

  • Cervical Cancer is the second most common type of cancer found in women.
  • Cervical Cancer is one of the most treatable cancers.
  • About 12,000 women will be diagnosed with Cervical Cancer per year.
  • About half of the patients are between the ages of 35 and 55.
  • Cervical Cancer can be diagnosed through the Papanicolaou (Pap) test.
  • Doctors suggest getting the first Pap test at the age of 21 and the last one at the age of 70 with about three year intervals.
  • Cervical Cancer be treated through surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Always share these facts about Cervical Cancer to spread awareness and stop the battle against cancer. Sharing this post could save someone’s life! You would be saving a whole circle of family and friends from a roller coaster of emotions.

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.