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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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!

I am Thankful for My Father Figures

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!! This is my favorite time of the year — everyone sharing why they are thankful, the Christmas music in the stores, the smell of gingerbread cookies in my mother’s kitchen, and the generous, giving vibes floating around.

Here are a few of my father figures (and cousin) who have guided me through all my confused moments when I was in need of a dad.

Here are a few of my father figures (and cousin) who have guided me through all my confused moments when I was in need of a dad.

I’m so thankful for everything in my life, but I wanted to specifically thank all of my father figures and all of those who have been there for me through the thick and thin. I’m always looking for some advice and guidance, because ever since I lost my dad to cancer I have felt so lost. I always think, “am I doing this right?”

The great thing is that my dad died knowing I was being left in amazing hands to take care of me. He made sure that I had multiple father figures to take care of me, and give me some helpful daddy-advice whenever I was in a pickle.

It’s hard being in college without a dad because it feels like every single decision you make will determine your future. I am always so confused if I am involved in the right things, and if I’m taking the right classes, and if I’m even majoring in the major that’s for me. Thankfully I have amazing father figures to guide me through all my confused moments of life and will continue to guide me when I am in need of a daddy.

 

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.

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.

 

The Holidays

The holidays with a sick parent or a recently deceased parent is undoubtably challenging. In my opinion it is one of the hardest times throughout the year.

Cancer Christmas Tree

Here are some tips that will help you get through this time:

  • Start a new tradition- Because of cancer, you and your family might not be able to do everything you used to before the cancer. Start a new tradition. Maybe you could make cancer ribbons and hang them on your Christmas tree!
  • Be a giver- After my experience with cancer, I have become so thankful and grateful for the smallest things in life- thankful and grateful for things most teenagers won’t even realize we are blessed to have.
  • Do something for yourself- It is the holiday season! Just because you are dealing with this obstacle, does not mean you are not allowed to have fun and celebrate the holidays.
  • Tell your family/friends if you do not feel like participating in certain things- Even though you should be having fun and celebrating everything, it is totally understandable if you don’t feel like it. Remember, no one expects anything. If you are not in the mood to go do something, then don’t. This time of the year is hard with a sick parent or a deceased parent and most people understand that.
  • Don’t expect much- In whatever situation you might be in, it is natural for cancer and everything that comes with cancer to dictate many family decisions. Do not expect too much out of your sick or healthy parent. They are trying their best to please you during this hard time!
  • Set goals- With New Years coming up, I suggest setting goals. Set goals about cancer. Maybe your goal will be taking your parent to a certain number of chemotherapies or maybe it will be honoring a parent who passed away from cancer in a new and creative way. My cancer related goal is to help a certain number of kids and teenagers who are having trouble coping with their parent’s cancer.
  • Spend time with your family- After having cancer play such a big part in your life, I am sure you understand how important it is to spend time with your family. So, spend as much time with your family as you possibly can!
  • Keep the holiday spirit- Cancer does not define you or your family. Make sure to have fun and still keep the holiday spirit going, despite these stumbles.

Happy Holidays! I hope everyone has a great holiday season while coping with cancer the best one could!

Getting Through the Day

Sometimes when I wake up in the morning I feel like laying in bed all day and just looking at pictures of my dad and crying.  And sometimes during the day I feel like crawling into bed and doing the exact same thing.

Here are just a few things that get me through the day:

1. Knowing my dad is watching over me- I know that whatever I’m doing is making my dad happy. He wouldn’t want me to completely stop my life and sit home and sulk. As much as I would like to do that, it’s important for me to grieve in a healthy way.
2. Connecting my dad to every part of my day- I love celebrating my dad’s life and bragging to everyone on how cool and loveable he was. If I was in a conversation with someone I feel comfortable with, there’s a high chance I’ll bring up my dad and an amazing memory to go with the conversation. Talking about him with the right people makes me feel better, but not all teenagers are comfortable with that.
3. Doing it all for my dad- In my eyes, everything I do I do it for my dad. He’s my motivation in life. From the smallest goals to the largest tasks, I see my dad at the end of every destination.

Take everything step by step and day by day. Appreciate the little things in life. And of course, always keep your family as your number one priority.