Once upon a time, we stumble across a story that touches the very deep core of our soul. This is one of those stories.
Shayla – “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.”
Dad – “Sure baby, I’ll pick you up after school tomorrow. We’ll grab some dinner afterwards if you want.”
It turns out they would do anything for that to be a sinus infection. It was a huge cancerous tumor that had been taking up two thirds of her little chest. It even cause one of her lungs to collapse.
They did have a dinner that night, just not at their favorite restaurant. They spend the dinner pushing food in the plates in a room on the pediatric oncology unit of Fairfax Hospital. Little did they know they will have 450 meals in that hospital, and hundreds and hundreds of additional meals in the upcoming years.
The doctors told him the shocking news, the one he least expected. His daughter had Stage 4 Hodgkin’s disease. He had to dig so deep within his soul to be brave than he ever thought possible. He had to have a very tough conversation with a very scared 16-year-old.
Her dad wound up purchasing two sterling silver ‘feather’ bracelets from an American Indian art store near the hospital. That day they had a tough talk about everything and nothing, and talked about the meaning of the word ‘brave’. They held each other tight for a very long time and both cried. No matter what they would be brave and together they will get through it.
He gave her the bracelet and put them both at the same time.
He promised her 3 things:
-That he would wear the bracelet until the day she was cancer free.
-That for every single night she had to stay in the hospital he would stay with her.
-That as long as she stayed brave, so would he.
He kept those promises…
The next couple of years were harsh to say the least. It was gut-wrenching what he had to witness. Even more so, what she had to go through.
It was chemotherapy, pain killers, radiation, blood transfusions, more pain killers, more medicine… shortly after they began with chemo her heart quit working, so they had to install pacemaker/defibrillator into her chest. He held her hair while she threw up, hold her hand when her hair fell out. They frequently talked about being brave.
One morning while they went to the chemo clinic something happened that shocked him to the core, and will probably haunt him for the rest of his days. The pacemaker they had installed began to malfunction and she started screaming “Help me Dad! IT’S SHOCKING ME! …IT’S SHOCKING ME!” the damn thing was designed to send those shocks if her heart stopped, but her heart was just fine.
“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 turns out the manufacturer of the device had to pull back thousands of them due to a malfunction. One of them was in her chest.
There were more chemotherapies, more blood transfusions, sleepless nights at the hospital, heart surgeries, failed bone marrow transplant and in spite of it all, Shayla never stopped fighting and kept on taking good care of her father. One day the doctors came and there was nothing more they 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 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…”
“Am I still brave Dad?,” she whispered softly in his ear.
He placed his hands on her face and looked deep into her eyes, in her soul. She fought so hard that she was tired, very very tired. But he realized something that sent chills all over his body. She wasn’t staying brave for herself, she was brave for HIM!
A few days later Shayla lost her battle with childhood cancer. She fought hard and she fought bravely.
Today he doesn’t talk about feathers and bracelets…. but talks a great deal about a little girl he once knew, and about the importance of being brave.
This story changed my life. Not because I am afraid of losing my son or family, but because today I learned to appreciate the time I spend with them.
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