Having a sinus infection or a simple common cold can be uncomfortable especially when you have a lot of things to do.
When Shayla Mitchell had a terrible cough that did not go away for days, she thought she had a sinus infection and asked her father if he could take her to the hospital.
Tom, her father, picked her up from school and brought her to a doctor. They also planned to eat in a restaurant after the routine check.
However, they ended up eating their meals in a room on the pediatric oncology unit of Fairfax Hospital.
“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,” Tom expressed.
What was meant to be a quick checkup turned to horror when Shayla’s doctor returned with an alarming look on his face. His expression was enough to tell them the problem was more than just a sinus infection.
The doctor said that the teen had a cancerous tumor that covered two-thirds of her entire chest. Her condition was already severe that it had caused one of her lungs to collapse.
Shayla and her father were informed that she was suffering from Stage 4 Hodgkin’s disease.
“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,’” Tom said.
“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 bought two matching bracelets for them. The father said he put the bracelet on his daughter’s wrist when they 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.”
They spent nights in the hospital together for the next couple of years. Shayla went through several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. At some point, she even had heart failure.
Tom held her hand when her hair started to fall out. The two stayed strong the whole time.
The father recalled one of the hardest times during their ordeal. Shayla was walking to the vehicle on her way to the Chemo clinic with her father when she started screaming: “Help me, Dad! IT’S SHOCKING ME! …IT’S SHOCKING ME!”
Her pacemaker, a small device placed in the abdomen or chest to help control abnormal heart rhythms, had malfunctioned.
Speaking 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 one of the times he felt his daughter slipping out of his hands but he continued to hold on. He refused to let go until the doctors told him there was nothing more they could do.
“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 said that when he stopped speaking, Shayla whispered a question he would never forget.
“Am I still brave, Dad?” she asked. Tom looked into her eyes and it was at that moment he realized her daughter had been fighting the whole time not for herself… but for him.
Shayla passed away but Tom will always remember her bravery. She will remain a hero to everyone who hears her story.
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