young girl coughing
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
March 27, 2024 ·  5 min read

Father writes heartbreaking open letter after losing daughter to cancer

One day, Tom Mitchell’s teenage daughter Shayla told him that she hadn’t been feeling well and thought she had a sinus infection. She asked her dad if he could take her to the doctor’s. After school the following day, Tom did just that, with the plan of getting dinner together afterward. The pair did have dinner, though not at a restaurant as they had planned: They ate in the oncology ward of the hospital. Shayla had Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Disease. Sadly, Shayla lost her cancer battle in 2009. Now, Tom continues to raise funds and awareness for childhood cancers in honor of his daughter.

Tom and Shayla’s Story

When Tom had to have that first conversation with his 16-year-old daughter about her cancer, he had to be brave. Before heading into that conversation, he went out and bought two silver feather bracelets from an indigenous art store near the hospital. In that first conversation, they promised each other that they would be brave. (1)

“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. I promised her 3 things:
-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.

I have kept those promises.”

A Lesson in Being Brave

They spent hundreds of nights and even more hours in the hospital for the next couple of years. They ate more meals together in the hospital than anywhere else. The father-daughter pair spent hours talking. They talked about many things; however, their conversations often came back to feathers, the wind, and being brave. Sadly, the day came when the doctors informed Tom that there was nothing more that they could do for his little girl.

“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?” Tom questioned himself. “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.”

Since the day his daughter passed, Tom has not stopped raising awareness and funds for childhood cancers. He started, a childhood cancer foundation. You can find the Facebook page here. Through his organization, he shares he and Shayla’s story, as well as raises awareness and funds for childhood cancer research. His hope is that, one day, no other parents will have to have the same conversations that he did with his own daughter.

Understanding Hodgkin’s Disease: Childhood Cancer

Hodgkin’s disease, also known as Hodgkin lymphoma, is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system. It is named after Thomas Hodgkin, who first described the disease in 1832. While it can occur in people of any age, it is most commonly diagnosed in children and young adults. (2)


The symptoms of Hodgkin’s disease can vary depending on the stage of the cancer. Some common symptoms include:

  • Swollen lymph nodes, usually in the neck, armpits, or groin
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Itchy skin
  • Loss of appetite

Symptoms of Stage 4 Hodgkin’s include:

  • fatigue
  • night sweats
  • recurrent fevers
  • weight loss
  • itching
  • bone pain, if your bone marrow is affected
  • loss of appetite
  • abdominal pain
  • abdominal swelling
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • constipation, if your spleen, intestines, or other parts of your abdomen are affected
  • chest pain, shortness of breath, or coughing if you have tumors that press on your trachea or superior vena cava

If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, seeing a doctor as soon as possible is important.


To diagnose Hodgkin’s disease, a doctor will perform a physical exam and may order blood tests, imaging tests, or a biopsy of a lymph node. If the diagnosis is confirmed, the doctor will determine the stage of the cancer to help guide treatment options.

Hodgkin’s vs. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

There are two main types of lymphoma: Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s. Both are cancers of the lymphatic system, but they differ in how they spread through the body and their symptoms. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is more common than non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and usually affects young people but can also affect adults. The cancer spreads quickly and often spreads to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or brain. If caught early, Hodgkin’s is highly curable. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma tends to develop in older adults and may not cause symptoms until the later stages of the disease.


Treatment for Hodgkin’s disease typically involves a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In some cases, surgery may also be necessary. Treatment aims to destroy the cancer cells and prevent them from spreading.


The outlook for children with Hodgkin’s disease has improved significantly in recent years, thanks to advances in treatment. According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate for all patients diagnosed with this illness is about 89%. However, it is important to note that every case is different, and the outcome will depend on a variety of factors, including the stage of cancer and the child’s overall health. (3)

The Kind of Brace No One Wants to Be

Tom didn’t know bravery until he had to walk alongside his daughter while she battled stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Through the tragedy of losing his daughter, he has raised thousands of dollars to improve the outcomes for patients like Shayla. Hodgkin’s disease is a serious childhood cancer, but with prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment, the outlook for children with the disease is generally positive. If you are concerned that your child may be experiencing symptoms of Hodgkin’s disease, it is important to see a doctor right away.

Keep Reading: Mom and 6 sons donate a combined 17 feet of hair after friend dies of cancer


  1. 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.”.” Still Brave
  2. Hodgkin lymphoma.” Cancer Research UK
  3. Key Statistics for Hodgkin Lymphoma.” Cancer