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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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.

Internal Locus of Control vs. External Locus of Control

Internal Locus of Control- Internal Locus of Control means if something happens in your life you feel like you can change the situation or influence it. You feel like you have more control over the hardships in your life. For example, if your parent was diagnosed with cancer you would take them to chemotherapies, be positive around them, and do research on cancer (exactly what I did.)

External Locus of Control- External Locus of Control basically means you feel like whatever has happened in your life has happened because of your fate or destiny. You feel like there is nothing you can do about it. So if your parent was diagnosed with cancer, you feel like this is your destiny and that your life is going to suck now and you cannot do a single thing about it.

Remember, if your parent has cancer you are not the only one going through it. There are millions of kids who have been in your shoes (myself included). Your family is also experiencing the same struggles you are. Some cases might be worse, some might be better but there will always be someone in your proximity to understand your pain and struggles. I suggest taking advantage of those who truly understand how hard this is and showing your support to those in a similar situation. If you know someone at your school with a parent who has cancer that you rarely talk to, try reaching out to them and discuss your problems and offer them your support. I have done this many times and it’s definitely paid off. I know some people may be shy or some just don’t like sharing their parents diagnosis/prognosis, but it never hurts to try!

If you feel like your life sucks and you cannot go any further in life because your parent’s cancer feels like a barricade, you are mistaken. Don’t get me wrong, I felt like that for a very long time. Sometimes I still feel like that. Thoughts of what could’ve been cross my mind all the time. Life is unfair and hard at times. But remember what you go through will make you a stronger person after the obstacles of cancer. Try not to think about the past so much or what could’ve been. Focus on the present and future. If you are unhappy with something in, change it. You control your life and your happiness.