Have you ever had a common cold or a simple sinus infection? It’s definitely not comfortable but rarely something to be too bothered about. So when Shayla Mitchell discovered that she had a terrible cough that was refusing to go away she suspected a sinus infection and asked her dad if he could drop her at the hospital the next day.
Tom, her dad picked her up after school the following day and took her to see the doctor as planned. Since it was nothing more than a routine check, they planned to grab a bite to eat immediately after their test. Sadly, things go according to plan at all. They ended up eating dinner in a room on the pediatric oncology unit of Fairfax Hospital
According to Tom, “We didn’t know it at the time, but we would wind up having our next 450 meals in that hospital, as well as hundreds and hundreds of additional meals over the next couple of years.”
What was meant to be a simple walk-in-walk-out session soon turned to horror when the doctor returned with a disconcerting look on his face. That was enough to tell them something more than just a sinus infection was up. To the shock of everyone, the doctor announced that Shayla had a cancerous tumor that covered two-thirds of her entire chest.
In fact, the situation was so critical that it has already caused one of her lungs to collapse completely.
Tom and Shayla were informed that the 16 years old was suffering from Stage 4 Hodgkin’s disease. However, before breaking the news to her, the doctor took his time to speak to her and calm her down. He even stopped for a while an American Indian art store near the hospital and bought a bracelet for each of them before breaking the new to them.
Speaking about the events of the day, Tom said. “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. ”
Tom said he put the bracelet on Shayla’s wrist then the pair made a promise to each other.
“That I would wear my bracelet until the day she was cancer free. That for every single night she had to stay in the hospital I would stay with her. That as long as she stayed brave, so would I.”
As things unfolded for the next couple of years, father and daughters had to spend hundreds of nights in the hospital together. Shayla received treatments, blood test, and had to go through several rounds of radiation and chemotherapy
Shayla even had heart failure at some point just after chemo treatments commenced. “…her poor little heart quit working, so they had to install a pacemaker/defibrillator into her chest.”
All through this time, Tom was there by her side, the brave dad held her hand when her hair fell out and through everything else she went through. Together they tried to stay strong all through the storm.
Tom recalled one of the toughest periods during their ordeal. Shayla was walking to the car on her way to the Chemo clinic with her dad when she all of a sudden began screaming.“Help me, Dad! IT’S SHOCKING ME! …IT’S SHOCKING ME!” she screamed. Her pacemaker had begun to malfunction and was running jolts of electricity through her body. But Tom didn’t let go of her hand
Writing about the ordeal, Tom said.
“But I refused to let go. I just held her as tightly as I could and just like that. it stopped shocking her as quickly as it had started, and we rushed to the hospital. It turns out the manufacturer of this device had to recall thousands of them like brakes on a Chevy.”
This was just one of the many occasions Tom could feel his daughter slipping out his hands but he refused to let go. He held on to hope until one day the doctors told her there was nothing more they could do for Shayla anymore. At that point, Tom was at a loss for what to do. He didn’t know how he would break the news to her.
“How in the world was I supposed to have this conversation with my darling daughter. How in the world was I going to be brave enough to tell my daughter she was going to die. … 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…” Tom wrote.
Tom recalled that when he stopped speaking, his daughter whispered a question he would never forget to him.
, “Am I still brave Dad?” she asked. At that moment he looked deeply into her eyes. It was at that moment that he realized that young Shayla had not been fighting for herself, she had been brave all this while just because of him.
Sadly, Shayla passed away later, but Tom would forever remember her bravery for the rest of his life. Young Shayla had fought valiantly and even though she lost at the end, she will remain a hero for Tom and to everyone that hears her story.