Tom Mitchell thought his daughter Shayla just had a simple sinus infection so he took her to see a doctor. But what she had was anything but simple.
The trip to the doctor would be the beginning of Shayla’s battle with stage 4 cancer.
Shayla and her family learned that she had a large tumor in her chest that was so big that it collapsed one of her lungs. She was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s disease.
“When the doctors gave me the news that my daughter had Stage 4 Hodgkin’s disease I had to dig really deep within my soul. I had to become braver than I ever thought possible… I had to have a really tough conversation with a very scared 16-year-old girl,” Mitchell said.
To help break the news, Mitchell bought he and his daughter two silver feather bracelets.
“I ‘spread my arms and held my breath’ and went into the room to have a ‘talk’ with a sweet little girl. 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,” Mitchell said.
When they two of the put their bracelets on, Mitchell told his daughter about wind, feathers, and how fate blew the two of them together.
He then promised her three things:
- He would wear that bracelet until she was cancer free
- He would stay with her every single night she had to spend in the hospital
- And that he would stay brave for as long as she did
Their journey included hundreds and hundreds of hours of chemotherapy, blood transfusion, radiation, painkillers, and lots of medicine.
It took such a toll on Shayla that her heart gave out. She had to have a pacemaker/defibrillator installed.
“I held her hair when she threw up, I held her hand when her hair fell out, and we held each other a lot. We cussed a lot, and we cried a lot but interestingly enough we laughed even more… often we talked about the wind and about feathers and about being brave,” Mitchell recalled. “One morning as we were walking to the car on the way to the chemotherapy clinic something happened that rocked me deep in the core of my bones and will probably haunt me for the rest of my days.”
Shayla’s pacemaker malfunctioned and started shocking Shayla and made her scream: “Help me Dad! IT’S SHOCKING ME! …IT’S SHOCKING ME!”
They later learned that the had manufacturer recalled the device.
Then came the bone marrow transplant failures. Shayla remained strong throughout it all but the day came when Mitchell had to find the strength to tell his daughter that there was nothing more the doctors could do.
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“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,” Mitchell said.
Now Mitchell runs the Stillbrave childhood cancer foundation that provides non-medical support for children with cancer and their families and talks about how Shayla stayed brave during her fight with cancer until the day she passed away.
You can help kids like Shayla and their parents by making a donation or supporting stillbrave.org.
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