She had her thyroid removed, earned her bachelor’s degree and felt perfectly fine for several years.
Then in 2016, Savanna was accepted into Vanderbilt’s Physics and Astronomy Ph.D. program. Two weeks before she was scheduled to move to Nashville from her home in Pittsburgh, doctors found metastases in both of her lungs.
“It was a major decision to separate geographically from my family, especially once the recurrence was on the table,” she says. “Moving here was kind of a big question mark. Do I do it? Do I not? But I did. In a lot of ways, I think that was definitely the best decision because it brought me to people like the folks at Gilda’s.”
Gilda’s Club, a United Way partner agency, provides support to anyone who has been impacted by cancer—at no cost.
Gilda’s is less than a mile from Vanderbilt and provided Savanna some much-needed respite as she battled cancer while earning her Ph.D. But she started off with Gilda’s just thinking she’d volunteer.
“Mostly that was just because I didn’t want to tell other people that I needed the services myself … for being a patient. I wasn’t super use to saying out loud that I needed it as a person with cancer myself but after the first meeting there, I just knew I needed to connect with those people and form meaningful connections with them,” she says. “Gilda’s is beautiful in a lot of ways because if you’re a caregiver, a friend, an acquaintance if you’re affected by cancer in some way shape or form you can go to Gilda’s.”
She goes to a general cancer support group every Monday and even met someone else—for the first time in her life—who is also fighting thyroid cancer.
“It’s not a very normal life in a lot of ways,” she says. “But it’s not one that I would necessarily change either.”
Savanna felt so connected to the organization, she wanted to give back even more and started teaching yoga and meditation twice a week.
“If I’m having a crap day and want someone else on the other end of the phone who understands, I know I can text any of these people in group and we’re that close that a conversation transpires that all the sudden makes everything OK. These folks have grown to be a major part of my life because I let them into my world. They celebrated big time with me when I graduated.
Now, a senior lecturer in Vanderbilt’s Physics and Astronomy department, Savanna never misses a meeting with her group.
“They are the people who if something goes sideways, if an appointment is not enjoyable—if you just need someone to commiserate with—they are amazing and always there. I can’t say enough good things about what that does for the day-to-day life.”