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Local boy fighting cancer gets Christmas wish in April

Daniel Garcia-Beech and Tom Mitchell shortly after Tom showed him the surprise tattoo. (Jay Korff)

WASHINGTON (ABC7) -- ABC7 reporter Jay Korff has been following Tom Mitchell for a couple years now, chronicling this activist's work in the childhood cancer community. This story reveals the remarkable lengths Mitchell, known as Tattoo Tom, is once again willing to go to help families in need.

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Marlowe Ink opened early one Saturday morning to help out a longtime client with a unique request.

"So we're at the tattoo shop of a good friend of mine James Marlowe. It's Marlowe Ink tattoos in Fairfax, Virginia," said Tom Mitchell.

There isn't a lot of room left on Mitchell's armor of ink.

"My name is Tom," Mitchell said. "They call me Tattoo Tom. I'm the executive director of a childhood cancer foundation."

But for this unique design, which connects Mitchell and a 13-year-old boy fighting cancer, space will be found.

"My organization is committed to helping children with cancer and their families in any way that we can. And sometimes that's with gas cards, and sometimes that's helping with rent, sometimes that's helping with groceries and sometimes that's just showing up and that's what I'm doing today. That's what I'm doing for Danny. I'm showing up," said Mitchell.

"You don't get anybody coming in getting a tattoo for a noble reason like this. It's pretty amazing," said Danny Zelsman, the artist who will be putting on Mitchell's tattoo.

The tattoo, of a road dog driving a hot rod, holds special meaning for Mitchell because of the friendship he shares with 13-year-old Daniel Garcia-Beech.

"I don't give nicknames to too many kids but this one I did," Mitchell said. "I've taken to calling him my road dog. And a road dog is a loyal and trusted companion. It's someone that sticks with you through everything, thick and thin and goes down every road with you. And that's what Daniel is to me. He's my road dog."

Mitchell has only done this a couple times for children. There's one on his arm of his daughter Shayla. She died of cancer several years ago.

"It's very personal," he said. "It's very intimate. It's very serious. You know, I've gotten the names of one or two other kids that I was very, very close to. It's not something that I do for any kid and it's not something that I take very lightly."

Daniel has endured 13 surgeries. The Rockville teen was leading a normal life a year and a half ago when he fell while playing soccer.

"And we took him to the pediatrician and she said it was just a pulled muscle. He's a kid. This is what kids do. Five weeks later it was a lot worse so I took him into the emergency room and they found the tumor at that point," said Theresa Beech, Daniel's mother.

"So actually when we were in the emergency room and I saw the doctor's face when she got the x-rays and was like oh (expletive)."

Beech says her son, to beat back the cancer, has endured unthinkable treatments.

"Dan went through what's called high dose and very high dose chemotherapy. So these are doses of chemotherapy agents that are many, many times higher than what adults receive. One of the drugs that Dan received was mustard gas, basically liquid mustard gas."

Daniel persevered only to hear the dispiriting news last fall.

"It came back in the leg and so at that point the only option is amputation," his mother said.

If that wasn't traumatic enough, crushing news followed. The cancer has spread to his lungs and is inoperable.

"I love my kids with everything I am and I would give anything to take the disease from Dan," said Beech.

Her son made a simple, sweet request recently that caught this mother's attention. He was in the hospital over the winter holidays and missed Christmas dinner.

"His cousins are here this weekend so he wanted to recreate a Christmas dinner with ham and mashed potatoes and stuffing and gravy and pumpkin pie and possibly cookies," his mother said. "He is a 13-year-old boy."

This she could do with the help of a Tattoo Tom, who ended up delivering Christmas in April to Daniel.

While Mitchell was getting the secret tattoo, a team of volunteers throughout Northern Virginia cooked a feast for Daniel and his family.

"When you hear that a child's wish is to have one more Christmas dinner, how can you not? How can you hear a wish like that and not want to help?" said volunteer Anette Zarookian.

Later in the evening Mitchell and a couple of volunteer elves knocked on the Beech's door.

"Hello! Ho, ho, ho! It's Christmas in April!" Mitchell said.

Mitchell and his elves set the table and heated up the food. But moments after Mitchell paid Daniel a quick visit, we learned that the guest of honor, who spends much of his time in the basement feeling sick and exhausted, wouldn't join his family at the table.

"He asked me if he could stay downstairs instead of coming up here and that's what's most important is how Dan feels and that's what we're really here for today," Mitchell said. "But I think this is a real testament and a real statement that this is his dinner and he just doesn't feel good enough to come up for it. But it doesn't matter because I'm taking it downstairs for him."

That's when Mitchell went downstairs, brought Daniel his food and revealed his big surprise.

"Before you eat, you know how I told you, you are my road dog. Do you know what that means?" Mitchell asked. "That's super, duper, huge special. Like I don't have road dogs. But I got one that's you. So this morning I made a phone call and I had my friends at Marlowe Ink open up their tattoo studios early. I rolled in and I got this here tattoo for you because you are my road dog. It's a dog running in a hot rod and if you see that smoke it says Daniel."

Daniel, shocked, said, "That is so cool."

"So now the reality of the situation you are a part of me. For as long as I live you are a part of me," Mitchell said. "Alright, eat your dinner."

"This is awesome. Tom got a tattoo," Daniel said.

Daniel didn't make it upstairs for dinner. He didn't have to. As it turned out, Christmas in April had nothing to do with a place at the table. But the place we reside in each other's hearts.

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Daniel's mother tells us his son has few options. They hope and pray that experimental drugs will contain the growth of the tumor in his lung and prevent more tumors from growing.

For more information on Stillbrave Childhood Cancer Foundation, please visit their website www.stillbrave.org.

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