Great Charities : Stillbrave Childhood Cancer Foundation

Stillbrave is an amazing foundation with an equally amazing founder… I have a sense of duty to try and do justice to the organization and the man behind it all, Tom Mitchell.  My fear is that I may not demonstrate through words how much I respect Tom and the work that he and his organization do.   Like myself, Tom is a dad who lost his daughter to cancer.  There is an abundance of support for moms out there, all very much well deserved, but at least for me personally, I feel a special bond to all the cancer dads out there… especially for those who have lost their baby girl.

shayla

Shayla

This beautiful young lady is Shayla, Tom’s daughter.   Feeling under the weather, with what was thought to possibly be a sinus infection, she asked her dad to go to the doctor.

That sinus infection was actually a tumor that had collapsed one of her lungs and was taking up 2/3 of her chest.

Like us with Emily, almost every parent of a cancer kid will have a story that starts off with “We thought it was only…”.   This is another reason we try to raise awareness.  Obviously, there needs to be more funding for research, but we also want parents to be aware of the signs and be prepared for the possibility that a simple ache, pain, or sniffle, can be serious.

Shayla was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkin’s disease.   In Tom’s own words, “When the doctors gave me the news that my daughter had stage 4 Hodgkin’s disease I had to dig really deep within my soul. I had to become braver than I ever thought possible… I had to have a really tough conversation with a very scared 16 year old girl. I wound up purchasing two sterling silver “feather” bracelets from an American Indian art store near the hospital, a small feminine bracelet for Shayla and a larger one for myself. I “spread my arms and held my breath” and went into the room to have a “talk” with a sweet little girl. 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 a little and we promised each other that no matter what, we would be brave; together we would get through this.

I gave her the bracelet I had bought for her and I put mine on at the same time, again I talked about the wind and about feathers and how fate had blown the two of us together.”

Tom then made Shayla 3 promises… all which he has kept:

  1. He would wear his bracelet until the day she was cancer free
  2. That he would stay with her every night she was in the hospital
  3. As long as she stayed brave, so would he

Shayla would spend the next couple of years as most cancer kids do, full of tests, operations, drugs, transfusions, scans, and of course, chemo.  Sadly, the day came that all parents fear hearing from a doctor…”there’s nothing else we can do”.

From personal experience, that day is worse than they day you hear “Your child has cancer”. Though your world is thrown upside down when you find out your child has cancer, you still have hope, you believe they’re going to beat it, you know they’re going to be one of lucky ones to get through it.  Your world, though a complete mess, is still complete.   Then you hear that nothing else can be done… and that hope and all the dreams of the future you had come crashing down.  It’s beyond devastating.

From Tom, “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 that 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 my ear. 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!!”

A few days later, Shayla lost her battle with cancer on January 28, 2009.

Tattoo Tom

Tom

Tom Mitchell, known to so many as Tattoo Tom, has dedicated his life to raising awareness of childhood cancer as well as funds to help families who are affected by it.

He is one of the most dedicated, self-sacrificing individuals I have ever heard of.   Tom has run a 50-mile trail run ultra marathon, a 100-mile and a 200-mile race in honor and memory of children fighting cancer and those who have lost their battle.   He is the ideal and picture of a dad with a mission.

If you are serious about raising awareness for childhood cancer, then you should look to Tom as an example and inspiration.

Stillbrave

The mission of Stillbrave is to provide non-medical support to cancer kids and their families.  Easing the burdens of life from cancer families and caregivers.  Speaking from experience, the greatest gift you can give parents of a cancer child, is time… time not spent on those inconveniences and more time spent with their children.

I highly encourage, no, I ask, in support of all children with cancer, that you read about Tom, Shayla, and Stillbrave on their website at http://stillbrave.org.

On a personal note to Tom, thank you for your dedication and for all that you do for the children and their families. – Joe.

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