What is the true meaning of bravery? Is it one’s ability to confront frightening things, or is it the courage to stay strong even when you know the end is near and the battle you fought so hard is lost?
For one 16-year-old girl, being brave meant staying strong for her father who never left her side during the toughest of times.
The following story was shared by a man named Tom Mitchell.
This devoted father recalled his girl telling him she wasn’t feeling fine and asking to be taken to the doctor’s as she believed she had sinus infection.
“Sure baby, I’ll pick you up after school tomorrow. We’ll grab some dinner afterwards if you want,” he answered.
The two did have dinner together the following day, but not at their favorite restaurant. Instead, they could barely swallow the food at the pediatric oncology unit of Fairfax Hospital. That meal was one of more than 450 these father and daughter would have there together, and the hundreds more in the years that followed.
His girl didn’t have sinus infection but a huge tumor that spread to her lungs and caused one to collapse.
The struggle was real. They were well aware that things wouldn’t be easy, but they were determined to fight together.
Shayla was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s disease.
Tom bought two sterling silver ‘feather’ bracelets and put one of each on their wrists as he tried to explain what it meant to be brave and endure the challenges and the obstacles life put ahead of them.
He then promised three things, that he would wear the bracelet until Shayla was cancer free, that he would stay at the hospital every single night, and that he would remain strong as long as she did.
Shayla’s battle with cancer lasted for years, each of which filled with chemotherapy, pain killers, radiation, blood transfusions, more pain killers, more medicine. All this was way too much for her body to handle so her heart became weak and she was in need of defibrillator which was soon installed inside her chest.
One day, as Shayla was getting ready for a chemo treatment, she suddenly started yelling, “Help me Dad! IT’S SHOCKING ME! …IT’S SHOCKING ME!”
Tom went on to explain what had happened. “I pulled her close and held her as tight as I could. It shocked her AGAIN and nearly blew her out of my arms. 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 turned out that the manufacturer of the device was forced to pull back thousands of them due to malfunction, and one of them happened to be the one inside Shayla’s chest.
What followed were more chemo treatments, more blood transfusions, one failed bone marrow transplant, and many painful sleepless nights. But Shayla never even thought of giving up, not until the very end.
“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 once heard a quote that sort of sums things up for me. “Can a man still be brave if he is afraid? … That is the only time he CAN be brave.” 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 shared.
“Am I still brave Dad?,” she whispered softly in his ear.
He then looked straight into her eyes and saw inside her soul. He knew she was very tired of fighting, that she couldn’t do it any longer, but he then realized something that sent chills down his spine. She wasn’t brave for herself, she was brave for him!
Unfortunately, Shayla died a few days later, but her dad will never forget her bravery and her strength.
Rest in peace, Shayla.
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Love and Peace