Common colds and sinus infections might not be pleasant, but they’re also not usually cause for alarm. So when Shayla Mitchell discovered that she had a terrible cough that was refusing to go away, she suspected a sinus infection and asked her dad if he could drop her at the hospital the next day.

The following day, as planned, Tom picked her up from school and took her to see the doctor. They had intended on grabbing a quick bite to eat afterwards but sadly things did not go according to plan. Instead, they ended up having dinner in one of the rooms in Fairfax Hospital’s pediatric oncology unit.

Tom said, “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.”

Originally, Shayla and her family thought that she would only have to walk in and out of the doctor’s office with a simple sinus infection. However, the doctor soon came back into the room with an unsettling look on his face, which led them all to believe that something more serious was going on. To their complete surprise and horror, the doctor announced that Shayla had a cancerous tumor taking up two-thirds of her chest.

The situation was so dire that one of her lungs already collapsed.

Tom and Shayla’s 16-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s disease. However, before telling her the news, the doctor took his time to speak to her and calm her down. He even stopped at an American Indian art store near the hospital and bought a bracelet for each of them before breaking the new sot hem.

Tom spoke about the events of the day, “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 Shayla’s wrist and 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.”

Over the next few years, Shayla’s dad had to spend many nights with her in the hospital as she received treatment including blood tests and radiation, and chemotherapy.

Shayla’s heart failed shortly after she started chemotherapy treatments. “…her poor little heart quit working, so they had to install a pacemaker/defibrillator into her chest.”

Tom never left her side throughout the entirety of her battle, even when she was at her weakest. He held her hand as she lost all of her hair, and he did everything in his power to make sure that both of them made it out alive together.

One of the most trying times during their experience was recalled by Tom. Shayla had been walking to the car with her father on route to her chemotherapy appointment when she started screaming uncontrollably. “Help me, Dad! IT’S SHOCKING ME! …IT’S SHOCKING ME!” she screamed. Tom held onto her hand even though jolts of electricity were coursing through her body because her pacemaker had begun to malfunction.

Tom said that writing about the ordeal was difficult.

“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 was Tom’s daughter, and this wasn’t the first time he felt her slipping away from him, but each time prior he had refused to let go. He held on to hope until one day when the doctors said there was nothing more they could do for Shayla. At that point, Tom didn’t know how to break the news or what to do next.

“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 wrote.

Tom’s daughter whispered a question to him that he would never forget when she stopped speaking.

“Am I still brave Dad?” she said. He looked Shayla in the eyes and realized that she had been fighting for him all this time, not herself.

Shayla passed away later, but Tom would always remember her bravery. Shayla fought hard and even though she didn’t win in the end, to Tom and anyone that hears her story, she will forever be a hero.