There are always going to be things in our life that are unexpected and they can change the direction things are going on a dime. Some of those things are going to be minor and we might not even feel the impact of them when they take place. Every once in a while, however, there are going to be things that change our lives so significantly, we will never be the same after they occur. Shayla Mitchell was about to experience one of those moments.
Shayla had not been feeling well. She didn’t think much of it at first but she just had a cough and she couldn’t shake it. The next day, she asked her dad, Tom, if he could take her to the doctor. She thought maybe she had a sinus infection. The next day, her dad came to pick her up from school and they thought they might grab a bite to eat after the doctor’s appointment.
The doctor gave Shayla an examination but when he came back into the room, he had a strange look on his face. She instantly knew that it was more than a sinus infection.
As it turned out, 2/3 of her chest was being taken up by a large a cancerous tumor. It had even caused one of her lungs to collapse.
Shayla still went out to eat dinner with her father, hoping that it would take their minds off of things. The difference was, it took place at a room on the pediatric oncology unit of Fairfax Hospital. Tom shared the following on a popular Facebook group:
“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.”
Doctors told her that she had stage 4 Hodgkin’s disease. She was terribly afraid.
Before he sat and told her what was going on, he stopped and bought a bracelet for each of them at a nearby Indian art store. He then broke the news to her:
“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 put the bracelet on her wrist. He then told her the following:
“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.”
The two of them spent hundreds of nights together in the hospital, as well as at the chemotherapy clinic. Shayla had to go through many tests, including radiation and chemo. She even experienced heart failure soon after the treatments began:
“…her poor little heart quit working, so they had to install a pacemaker/defibrillator into her chest.”
Tom held his daughter’s hair while she threw up and then held her hand when the hair fell out
They experienced all of the emotions during that time and tried to stay brave.
One day she experienced something unexpected on her way to the car and her dad didn’t know what to do.
“Help me Dad! IT’S SHOCKING ME! …IT’S SHOCKING ME!”
As it turns out, her pacemaker that had been installed to keep her heart beating was malfunctioning and shocking her repeatedly. He grabbed her and held her tight.
“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.”
Shayla had to go through a replacement surgery, failed bone marrow transplant and many more procedures. Eventually, they were told that there was nothing doctors 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…”
After Tom stopped speaking, she leaned over and whispered, “Am I still brave, Dad?” He looked at her and saw how much she had been fighting. He then realized it was more than just being brave for herself, she was fighting for him.
Within a few days, Shayla passed away. Her dad realized she had fought a hard fight and she was finally resting.