Fall is here, and with it comes colds, coughs and chest infections. Most of us want to go into hibernation when we feel the cold until the warm weather returns.
When 16-year-old Shayla Mitchell started to feel sick, she thought it was just a sinus infection, but to be safe asked her dad if he would take her to the doctor.
But doctors discovered it was anything but a sinus infection and for two people their worlds were about to fall apart.
The next day dad Tom picked Shayla up after school and took her to the doctors with a promise of dinner after.
When doctors examined Shayla they discovered a cancerous tumor that had been taking up two thirds of her little chest. It had caused one of her lungs to collapse.
After the shocking news the two did go for dinner after but all the father and daughter could do was push the food around their plates, not realizing that they were to have the next 450 meals in that same hospital.
Shayla was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s disease and Tom was faced with discussing her diagnosis with his precious and very scared girl.
He also purchased two sterling silver ‘feather’ bracelets from an American Indian art store near the hospital, a small feminine bracelet for Shayla and a larger one for him.
He describes the heartbreaking conversation he had with his daughter saying: “I talked with her about everything and nothing, I talked with her about the wind and about feathers and I talked with her about cancer. We talked about the word “brave.” We held each other very tight for a very long time. I’m pretty sure we both cried, and we promised each other that no matter what, we would be brave; together we would get through this.”
Over the next few years, Tom spent hundreds of nights with his daughter while she was fighting this horrific disease cancer. She endured hundreds of hours in the chemotherapy clinic, blood transfusions, radiation and more pain killers and medicines.
Shortly after the chemo began, her poor little heart quit working, so they had to install a pacemaker/defibrillator into her chest. This immensely brave young lady never stopped fighting, with her dad by her side.
Tom held her daughter’s hair while she was vomiting, held her hand while her hair fell out . They cried together, they laughed together, and they tried to be brave together.
One day they received the news nobody should ever have to hear, especially a young girl with her whole life ahead of her – the doctors told Tom there was nothing more they could do for Shayla.
In an extremely heartbreaking and thought provoking post on Love What Matters Tom writes what he had to do next:
“How in the world was I going to be brave enough to tell my daughter she was going to die? I once heard a quote that sort of sums things up for me. ‘Can a man still be brave if he is afraid? … That is the only time he CAN be brave.’ I knew I had to be brave for HER!
I did of course have that conversation with her, and as unbelievable as this may sound it turned out to be the most amazing, beautiful, magical, wonderful conversation I’ve ever had in my entire life, and one that I hope you NEVER EVER have to have…
Am I still brave Dad?’ she whispered softly in my ear. I placed my hands on her face and looked deep into her eyes; my baby was tired and she had fought so bravely for so long…but she was so very tired… she was still brave alright, but as I looked into her eyes, I began to realize something: this whole time she hadn’t been staying brave for herself, she had been staying brave for ME!”
A few days later Shayla lost her battle to childhood cancer. Her memory lives on in a Childhood Cancer Foundation Tom started called Still Brave to, in Tom’s words: “finish what Shayla could not.”
Please share this story as a tribute to an immensely brave young lady and to spread the word about Still Brave, set up in her honor.
No child should have to fight cancer and no parent should have to endure what Tom did.