A father has recalled the moment his daughter complained of a cough that didn’t go away, thinking she may have contracted sinusitis.
Shayla Mitchell, 16, then asked her father, Tom Mitchell, if he could take her to the hospital. Everything appeared routine.
“Hey Dad, I haven’t been feeling too well lately, do you think you could take me to the doctors? I think I might have a sinus infection or something,” he recalled her telling him. “Sure baby, I’ll pick you up after school tomorrow. We’ll grab some dinner afterwards if you want” is what he responded.
However, when the girl was examined by the doctor, he left the room and was out for some time, according to an account posted on Love What Matters. It wasn’t a sinus infection, but it turned out to be something far more serious.
“I was actually a huge cancerous tumor that had been taking up two-thirds of her little chest. It had caused one of her lungs to collapse,” he wrote.
Tom said that the two ended up having dinner that night, but it was at Fairfax Hospital, noting that they would share their next 450 meals in that same hospital.
Shayla, he said, was diagnosed with Stage 4 (the worst) Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“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 recalled.
He gave her a bracelet and promised her three things: He would wear a similar bracelet until she was free of cancer, he would stay with her in the hospital as long as she was there, and that as long as she stayed brave, he would too.
“The next couple of years we spent hundreds and hundreds of nights together in the hospital. We spent hundreds and hundreds of hours in the chemotherapy clinic,” Tom recalled. After the radiation and chemotherapy, her heart stopped working, forcing medical officials to give her a pacemaker.
“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,” Tom wrote.
Later in the article, he described how he felt when Shayla’s condition worsened.
“There was to be still more chemotherapy and more blood transfusions and more nights in the hospital and more heart surgeries. There was also a failed bone marrow transplant attempt and yet, in spite of it all, Shayla never quit fighting and she still managed to find time to take pretty damned good care of me… but the day came when the doctors told me there was nothing else they could do,” he wrote.
Then, Tom questioned how he could properly inform his daughter that she didn’t have much more time to live.
“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?” he asked.
But the worried father recalled a quote, “Can a man still be brave if he is afraid? … That is the only time he CAN be brave.”
“‘Am I still brave Dad?,’ she whispered softly in my ear,” he wrote, remembering the moment he told her about her prognosis. “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!”
He said that days later, she passed away after a long battle with many ups and downs.
“I never really had a life until all of this happened,” he said. “I was lost and searching. My strength lies in my empathy. … and now, I’m so in love with life!”