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.

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Cuck Fancer.

What is Cuck Fancer?

Cuck Fancer. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness for young adults affected by cancer. Cuck Fancer. gives out financial aid to these young adults and hopes to add as many people as possible to the bone marrow registry to potentially save lives for those needing a bone marrow transplant. Cuck Fancer. was founded by Ben Teller when he was just 18 years old after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. After two transplants the last one saving his life, he realized that there is a lack of resources for young adults affected by cancer and a lack of potential donors for bone marrow transplants!

Ben Teller, the founder of Cuck Fancer.

Ben Teller, the founder of Cuck Fancer.

Cancer brings out many negative feelings, an infinite amount of tears and sorrow, and so much more than anyone is able to deal with, but cancer also brings out amazing and inspiring individuals like Ben Teller who strive to change the world and make a positive impact.

Get Swabbed with Be the Match Bone Marrow Registry!

To become a match, it’s a simple 3 easy steps and 5 minutes of your time:

  • Step 1: Fill out basic information packet
  • Step 2: Swab cheeks with cotton swabs
  • Step 3: Seal your packet and return it

Here are some statistics:

  • 12 million out of 7 billion people are in the national bone marrow registry – That’s only about 0.18% of the world!
  • 10,000 patients a year need a transplant

Cuck Fancer. believes young and healthy adults are the best potential match for the patients who need life saving transplants. Swab your cheek and save a life!! Check out http://www.marrow.org to find out more! Cuck Fancer. will be swabbing cheeks at UC Davis tomorrow at the quad, so come on by and give back to those who need it the most.

Cuck Fancer. will be on be at UC Davis for the next three days spreading awareness, selling apparel, swabbing cheeks, and lastly shaving heads to raise money! Check back with http://www.copingwithcancer.org to see how the three days went! Happy cheek swabbing!!!

Learn more about Cuck Fancer. on: http://cuckfancer.org/ and don’t forget to follow them on social media: https://twitter.com/cuck_fancer and https://www.facebook.com/cuckfancer!

Here are some of the guys that plan on shaving their heads on Saturday!

 

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.

I Cannot Bear Not to Help Cancer Patients

This past weekend, I went to the Farmer’s Market and I saw a booth for children fighting cancer. They had a great fundraiser going on. The organization was selling little bears to stitch and decorate. The donator had the choice of giving it to a child with cancer or they could pay a few extra dollars and keep the bear. The second option was more for the little kids who participated, but still all of the profits went to the cancerous children so it was a win-win situation!

Every time I see a cancer fundraiser, I cannot bear (pun intended) to not participate in it. I remember when my dad was in the hospital, some volunteers gifted him a small pillow they stitched. He actually used it every single day when he was in the hospital and when he was on Hospice. Eventually, we had an inside joke about it and now every time I think about it, I smile. Cancer patients honestly adore and appreciate the little crafts volunteers do. A small piece of fabric, some stuffing, a thread, a needle, and your time can go a very long way. I know that this bear will make a child’s heart very happy!

Here are some pictures from the activity.

The pieces of fabric my friend and I used to sew the bear and decorate it.

The pieces of fabric my friend and I used to sew the bear and decorate it.

Writing a message for the cancer patient.

Writing a message for the cancer patient.

Writing a message for the cancer patient.

Writing a message for the cancer patient.

Drawing the face on the bear.

Drawing the face on the bear.

Meet Hope!
The front of the bear.

The front of the bear.

On the back of the bear, I wrote a message for the child. I wrote, “This is Hope. She will help you! You are so beautiful and strong. You will make a strong recovery. The world is supporting you.”

The back of the bear.

The back of the bear.

What Do You Like To Read?

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!

I Wear Red for Your Heart and for My Heart

Heart disease is the number one killer in women. And unfortunately, heart attacks, heart failure, and other types of heart diseases are too common in both genders. Because it is so prevalent in many lives, it is so important to be educated on an unhealthy heart and to know what to do when an unfavorable situation comes upon you.

Recently, I was blessed to be able to help raise awareness about this deadly disease. Students wore red and gathered around at a specific time to get educated on a healthy heart, and to educate others!

Some Symptoms of Heart Disease:

Coronary Artery Disease, Heart Attack, Arrhythmias, Atrial Fibrillation, Heart Valve Disease, Heart Failure, Congenital Heart Disease, & Heart Muscle Disease:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Weakness/dizziness
  • Nausea and sweating
  • Discomfort and pain in the chest, back, jaws, or arm area
  • Fullness or heartburn feeling
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats
  • Weakness/dizziness/fatigue
  • Pounding/discomfort in chest

The Importance of Knowing CPR:

I personally think knowing CPR is extremely important. I strongly recommend everyone to get certified in this as soon as possible. Unfortunately, no one can predict the future. You might be sitting in a restaurant and the person behind you chokes or you might be sitting in your house when a loved one experiences a heart attack. By getting certified in CPR, you can save a life. You can make a difference. You can be a hero to a family.

Treatment:

There are many medications and surgeries doctors can do to help a bad heart. For example, doctors can put in a stent for weak hearts to help with the flow in arteries. Doctors can also perform bypass surgery when arteries are blocked.

Take Care of Your Heart:

It is extremely important to be going to the doctors for regular check ups. Also, never skip any medication a doctor has prescribed. Live a healthy lifestyle. Walk more and eat right. For more on a healthy lifestyle, check out: https://copingwithcancerforkids.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/how-and-why-to-be-healthy/

Keep a healthy heart, help others keep a healthy heart, and spread those beautiful smiles!

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.

National Lung & Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month and National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month! During November, cancer organizations put on events to help fight these diseases and raise funds for research.

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

  • When it comes to cancer deaths, Lung Cancer takes the lead.
  • More men than women are diagnosed with Lung Cancer every year.
  • Active smoking is responsible for 90% of Lung Cancer patients.
  • If one is exposed to second hand smoke on a daily basis, their risk for Lung Cancer increases from anywhere between 20-30%.
  • Those who work with cancer causing agents, such as asbestos, arsenic, and radon, are also at a higher risk of being diagnosed with Lung Cancer.
  • Lung Cancer is often diagnosed through a lung biopsy, sputum cytology, bronchoscopy, mediastinoscopy, thoracentesis, CT scan, or PET scan.
  • Like most cancers, Lung Cancer can be treated though surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

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

  • Unfortunately, Pancreatic Cancer has a low survival rate compared to other types of cancer.
  • Family history of this disease, smoking on a regular basis, consuming alcohol on a regular basis, having a poor diet and having diabetes are major risk factors for this deadly disease.
  • Pancreatic Cancer is usually diagnosed through a physical exam, biopsy, ultrasound, MRI, or an X-Ray.
  • Pancreatic Cancer can be treated through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and gastroenterology.

Share these facts about Lung & Pancreatic Cancer with your friends and family to spread awareness and to help prevent these diseases. These types of cancer are extremely deadly, painful, and scary. It is so important that everyone is well-informed about the major facts. Always remember to support all types of cancer throughout the whole year! We are all in this fight together.