I’m in Paris! But…Where’s my dad?

I absolutely love thinking about my childhood — and traveling to Paris was a huge part my childhood. And, this summer I decided to go back to Paris and study an industry I potentially see myself in. I talked to a lot of people and questioned if this was the right decision. I was just so bored of summer internships, the same competitive conversations with my peers, and scheduled routines. I wanted to explore a new city by myself, grow as individual, learn a new culture, and of course immerse myself in specialized coursework.

When I first got into France by myself, I roamed around the neighborhood, ate at a really cute café, and rested! However, the next two nights I could not sleep at all and I was up all night thinking about my dad. See, France, and especially Paris was a special place to him, and to us. He came to Paris thrice a year in the early 2000’s, and my mom, my sister, and myself were brought along about once a year for awhile. Some of my most fond childhood memories are in Paris. Walking around the touristy landmarks, sparked a déjà vu I haven’t felt in awhile and reminded me of an aspect of my dad’s life that I haven’t thought about in awhile. Going from monument to monument, and place to place, it was like I was looking for my dad.

I think for the first two days of my trip, I had a difficult time adjusting because all I wanted to do was call my dad and tell him about my adventurous days. It kills me inside knowing that I can’t call him and tell him about the places I’m seeing, the food I’m eating, the people I’m meeting, and so much more. It kills me knowing that I can’t send him selfies of me outside the Eiffel Tower. It kills me knowing that he’ll never know I lived in Paris during my college career. But, I’M IN PARIS and it is so amazing.

Selfies with the Eiffel Tower

Selfies with the Eiffel Tower

I realized that at first when I leave my comfort zone, it will take me an extra day or two to adjust to my new surrounding. I also realized that the times I should be most happy, are the times I miss my dad the most.

Now, I am about halfway through my program, and I am loving every minute of it. Of course I miss my dad, and would love to tell him everything I’m doing, but I know that this is where he wanted me — following my dreams in a foreign place. I am falling in love with Paris, and now realizing why it was one of his favorite cities in the world, too.

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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!

My Trip Part Two: I had Realizations

In my last article, I wrote about my month long trip to India where I got out of my comfort zone, started to receive closure with my dad’s death, and coped with my negative feelings. After this month long trip, I have had a lot of realizations about my dad, my life, and cancer in general.

I realized:

  • that my dad had two lives- one in India and one in America
  • the extent of my dad’s pain and suffering for the two years he was sick
  • his sacrifices for his family (my mom, my sister, and myself)
  • his worries about my mom, my sister, and myself during his final days

Overall, I gained more insight in my dad’s life. The month I spent abroad and the realizations I made about my dad and my life have been life changing. Once again, I am so thankful for the opportunity that was given to me and I cannot wait for the next time to leave my comfort zone.

Here is a picture of me in a beautiful garden in India. This picture speaks for itself.

Here is a picture of me in a beautiful garden in India. This picture speaks for itself.

My Trip Part One: I Got Out of My Comfort Zone

About seven-ish months after my dad passed away, I made a week long trip with my mom and my sister half way across the world to India where most of my father’s family resides. This trip was extremely emotional and moving, but I did not seem to get closure on my father’s death whatsoever. I mainly went to show my face and pay my respect to my dad’s parents.

I made the decision to go back to India by myself this past month. I made the decision to get out of my comfort zone, to receive closure with the cancerous tragedy, and also to finally deal with my negative feelings. One of the hardest parts was the fact that I didn’t have my mom and sister to walk me through this. Thankfully, I was staying with family members during my whole trip. Although I was staying with family, I still didn’t feel so comfortable at first. By the end of my trip, everything in India felt like home.

I didn’t have many expectations going into the trip; I wasn’t sure if I would actually get the closure I wanted. But, I got out of my comfort zone, went to a different country alone, and grew immensely as a person.

Everyday I did something new and everyday I learned something new. I had a new realization about my dad, my life, and cancer in general. By the end of my trip, I started to accept my dad’s death. I started to come to terms with the tragedy that occurred in my life. I analyzed many aspects during my trip. I thought about which friends were really there for me, I thought about how my grades in school suffered, and I thought about what my dad was going through. I always knew that he was in pain and he was scared of the future, but it was only when some of his friends started telling me the things he told them during his sick days that I really started to put myself in his shoes. The thoughts of my dad’s suffering brought me back a few steps, but the trip as a whole resulted in me taking giant leaps on this grieving process.

This experience has taught me the best way to grow as an individual is to leave your comfort zone. I am so beyond thankful I had the experience to travel and grow as a person while grieving in a healthy way.

Here is a picture of me with my dad's mother. We had unforgettable heart-to-hearts about my dad. She also lost her dad at a young age, and then her son at an old age. I have a ridiculous amount of respect for her and I am so thankful I got to bond with her for the first time in my life.

Here is a picture of me with my dad’s mother. We had unforgettable heart-to-hearts about my dad. She also lost her dad at a young age, and then her son at an old age. I have a ridiculous amount of respect for her and I am so thankful I got to bond with her for the first time in my life.