A Letter to My Dad: Post Grad

Dear Dad,

I did it! I graduated from college! As this day approached, I have had a plethora of emotions, both negative and positive. Lately, I have been throwing fits about different aspects of my life — my friends, my family, my education, my future, etc. While you were battling cancer, one of your biggest concerns was my future… you told everyone that, and not because you were worried I wasn’t going to be successful, but because you knew you were my person. You made it very clear that you wanted your circle of family and friends to take care of me and look over me. I get it — all you knew dying was that I was going to college for the next 4 years or so. Every time I think about my graduation ceremony, I immediately tear up because I wish you were going to be there. During the times I am supposed to be the happiest, I always miss you the most.

I know you immigrated from India to this country with nothing in your pockets when you were my age so you could give your daughters a better life and a priceless education. In these last four years without you, I accomplished a lot. I failed a lot too. But, I’m almost more proud of my failures. I joined a sorority and served on the leadership board for it. I studied abroad in Paris, and it was the best investment I ever made in myself! I ate a lot of bread, drank a lot of wine, and walked everywhere in the city. I went to India a few times — almost to look for you, but I found myself. I volunteered countless hours to the cancer community and Camp Kesem and also served on the leadership board for them. I had a minimum wage making job throughout college to pay for my coffee and shoe addiction. I didn’t start off college with the best GPA, but I only improved and even made it on the dean’s honor list a few times. I had some internships in the finance industry and now I’m officially entering as an analyst at BlackRock!!! I met my goal of getting a competitive and intelligent job after college six months before graduating! I did a lot. I missed you a lot. I still miss you a lot. I cried a lot. I laughed a lot. I loved a lot. I hated a lot. I fell down. I made mistakes. I got back up. I fell some more. I grew and I did it. I thought I couldn’t do it without you. All the decisions I had to make, all the struggles I had to overcome, all the boys I had to let go of… I wanted to call you so badly. I wanted to ask you your opinion on what classes I should take. I wanted you to help me with my job applications and prepare me for the rigorous interviews. I wanted you to meet my boyfriends. I wanted to cry to you about the boys that broke my heart. I wanted you to see me go off to college. I wanted you to see me graduate. But, I still did it. I did it, Dad and I hope I’m making you proud.

Endless love,

Your Lulu

Congrats to all the 2017 graduates!

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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.

My Biggest Fear

We all have fears in life — spiders, sharks, creepy men, etc. My biggest fear changed after I lost my dad to cancer when I was 18 years old. I wish I could say my biggest fear is something like spiders, but now my biggest fear is forgetting my dad.

My biggest fear is forgetting his voice. And his laugh. And his big smile. And the way he would say my name. And the way he used to play with our dog, Duke. And the way he used to say, “Good night, I love you” every single night, no matter how tired he was or no matter how late it got. And his generous and funny personality. And his weird cravings for the most random flavors of ice cream.

I now try to do everything I can in my power so that my fear doesn’t become a reality. I have an album saved on my computer of pictures of my dad. And, I often times look at these pictures. I think about my favorite memories with him and I always proceed by writing it down in a small journal. I also wrote down his favorite color, ice cream, type of car, and everything else I still remember. It’s now my Daddy Journal. I also have a few videos and recordings of his voice. These videos and recordings are my best friend when I am having a “Daddy Day”. A Daddy Day happens occasionally and it’s perfectly normal. It’s one of those days where I just can’t stop thinking about him and I miss him a little extra.

 

For those who have also lost a parent (or any family member) to cancer (or any disease):

If you also fear that you might forget the little details and big memories of your lost parent, then I highly suggest writing everything down and recording what you can. Although sometimes it might be heartbreaking to write these details down, it is one of the most comforting things to have when you look back at it on one of those Mommy or Daddy Days. Your parent would only want you to remember them in the most positive and delightful way, and not in a cancerous way.

Words

Talk in everlasting words
And dedicate them all to me
And I will give you all my life
I’m here if you should call to me

You think that I don’t even mean
A single word I say

It’s only words, and words are all I have
To take your heart away

These lyrics are part of “Words” by the Bee Gees. “Words” was one of the first songs my dad taught me to play on the guitar probably about 8 years ago. It is also the last song he ever played, which was just two days before he was admitted to the hospital.

These few lyrics mean the world to me. “Talk in everlasting words and dedicate them all to me” The reason I blog, the reason I get up every morning, the reason I try my hardest in school is for my dad. I dedicate my world to him. “You think that I don’t even mean a single word I say. It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away.” Words is what I use. It’s what I use to help people cope with cancer and it’s all I have.

Words are all I have to show the world that I would do anything to help those coping with cancer and words are all I have to tell the universe how much I really do love and miss my dad.

Happy Birthday, Mommy

I wanted to give a special birthday shout out to my beautiful and strong mother today! So, happy birthday to the woman who bent over back to take care of my dad during the lowest points of his life, who did everything in the world to keep this family intact and strong, and who has motivated me to follow my dreams and ambitions even without my dad in my life anymore. You are the strongest woman I know and I hope to be at least half the person you are today when I’m a mother. I love you so much!

Thank you for being the best mommy AND daddy!

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.

What Do You Like To Read?

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.

The Ugly Truth About Chemotherapy

The weight loss. The fatigue. The nausea. The metallic taste. The hair loss. The appetite changes. The pain threshold changes. The mouth and throat sores. The numbness in the hands and feet. The swelling. And many, many more.

How do you watch your parent go through these side effects (sometimes more, sometimes less)? How do you sit there at work and know the pain that your parent is going through or gone through? How do you study in school knowing how much your parent is suffering or suffered? How do you smile while cancer is ripping your life apart?

I remember the first time I took my father to chemotherapy. At the time, I was just 16 years old. It was his third round of chemotherapy. A few hours into the session, something went wrong with the patient sitting across my dad and all the doctors ran in and closed the curtain. I saw that he was shaking uncontrollably and he practically turned purple. I could not handle it. I kept thinking to myself that the same thing would happen to my dad. I couldn’t breathe. I started shaking. I was beyond terrified. I felt like I was going to faint. At the time, my dad fell asleep. (I’m happy he was napping at the time because I would hate for him to see me like that.) I somehow found the energy to walk to the elevator and go down to the parking lot for some fresh air. I called my mom crying my eyes out. I kept saying, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this.” I let all my feelings and tears out. It took me a few minutes, but I pulled myself together and walked up the stairs to my dad. He just woke up from his nap. I acted like nothing was wrong and started a pleasant chess game with him. He won, as usual.

Each time your parent (or loved one) goes to chemotherapy a piece of your heart dies. It feels like the cancer punched you so incredibly hard and literally reached into you and cut out a piece of your heart.

I wish there was something I could do to ease you from this pain. Unfortunately, it’s just part of the cancer. If you cannot handle it, then I suggest leaving the room. Do not bring down your parent. They need your support. Give them the motivation to fight this disease. Fight this disease with your parent and never quit. Do everything in your power to help your parent become a survivor. Take them to chemotherapy. Put up with their mood swings. Give them the food they need to help with the nauseous feeling. Take care of your parents. Always take care of yourself too! Cancer is always going to be a distraction in school and work but try your best and that’s all anyone can ask for.

As awful as all of this feels at the moment, it’s better than having your parent gone. There were many times where I mentally had a difficult time taking care of my dad, but now that’s all I want to do.

Giving Back to the Community

Cancer is a scary word. It’s even scarier when it’s in your life and effecting your parent in the most negative way possible. One month after my dad was diagnosed with fourth stage cancer, I started a Relay for Life team for the youth of my city. I educated others on cancer (specifically Colon) and healthy diets as well as fundraised for American Cancer Society. Years later, I am still involved and always will be.

To cope with having a sick parent, it may help to give back to the community. Get involved in community walks, like Relay for Life. One could even start a club or team at their school. There is so much someone could do to help change the life of cancer patients and their families. You could volunteer at a hospital, sell your art work and donate the money to a cancer research lab, or just spread the word about the importance of doctor visits and screenings.

To get involved with Relay for Life visit:

http://www.relayforlife.org/?gclid=CJT3hYux7rgCFRDZQgod4BcASg