ROANE COUNTY (WVLT) Makayla Hamby's story has a short, simple theme to it: hold on to hope.
Makayla, 19, calls herself a lifelong Vol fan. Though she lives in Soddy-Daisy, she often visits her father in Rockwood. She got her love of the Big Orange from him.
"My whole life, that's all I could think of," Makayla said with a laugh. "I mean, I don't know anything else other than the Vols, really."
She became chronically sick in August. It started with a sore throat that wouldn't go away. Her doctor ordered an x-ray of her lungs. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"There were just a lot of times where we'd just cry," Makayla said.
Makayla reminded herself to stay positive during her treatments at Children's Hospital at Erlanger in Chattanooga. She said it took her some two days after the diagnosis to change her attitude for the better.
And in that time, she received a surprise visit from a friend of a friend who played football for UT. And that friend turned out to be a guy who knew a thing or two about struggle himself.
Apart from her, Paul was the only one who could boast as much orange blood as her in his 6-foor-2, 290-pound frame.
Makayla had bought tickets to what would've been her first UT football game; however, she became too sick to go.
"Paul said he would come and visit me bring the Vol spirit to my house," Makayla said.
Bain, a senior defensive tackle, heard about Makayla's story from his girlfriend's mother. Shortly after the Vols' 50-17 loss, Bain won a friend. He surprised Makayla the next day.
“The minute I walked up and met her, just tons of positivity, tons of energy,” Bain said. “It's like cancer didn't slow her down at all, didn't hinder her. She just ran through it like a brick wall.”
Tonight I got the honor to meet McKayla Hamby and her wonderful family. She couldn't make my last game in Neyland, but I will always make sure they will have a ticket to any game in my future on this level and the next. Praying as you go through your last treatment. pic.twitter.com/zhsCm1YdWN— Paul Bain (@ThePaulBain97) November 19, 2018
They bonded over their Christian faith. It was through Makayla that Bain says he learned about what it really means to have courage.
“She's going to impact my life for forever,” Bain said. “I'm sure there will be times where I'm going to be hit with a negative situation and I have the opportunity to try and take it and make a positive outcome of it, and keep believing and trusting in God that He'll take care of me. Or I have the option to let it swallow me whole.
“Makayla showed me the first option is always the best option,” Bain said. “That's a lesson she taught me firsthand that I'll always remember for the rest of my life.”
Bain could relate to her struggle – though he hasn't been in a situation as dire – but he recalls being in a dark place going from high school to Division II Tusculum, and the journey from Tusculum to Tennessee.
“I think it's crazy, it's crazy how life works,” Bain said. “God will bond two people who are completely opposites physically, but their hearts are linked in the same way because our journeys are the same way.
“In the crux of it, that we've both been in situations where giving up has been an option, giving up to the rest of the world would've been the smarter option, the easier option, the less painful option,” Bain said. “But we both chose to trust in the Lord and continue to work and withstand the pain and withstand the journey and withstand the struggle, even though we don't see the end of it.”
The day after Christmas, doctors told her she was cancer-free.
"I just hold on to that hope," Makayla said. "I know my god will bring me through whatever it is I have to go through."
Bain said he believes God's plan for him is to play in the NFL. The Powder Springs, Ga. native has a long road ahead of him. Part of that journey will include checking up on Makayla, who's not too far away in the greater Chattanooga area.
He may be a guest at some Hamby family dinners in the near future.
“Her mother swears that she's a great cook so I plan on going up there and trying some of that good food,” Bain chuckles, a wide smile spread across his face. “She says she can cook anything, so I'm excited to see.”
Bain plans to keep his promise to always leave the Hamby's tickets to his games.
“I'm a firm believer that whenever you want to do anything in life, you want to keep positive people around,” Bain said. “You want to keep people who are going to continue to encourage you and push you and remind you who you are. You want to keep those people around you. Makayla and her family are the exact type of people I want to keep around me.”