The first time Scott and Joann Marlow realized something might be wrong with their 4-year-old daughter, Savannah, was in October 2015.
“She was losing her balance a lot,” Joann Marlow said. “I remember saying, ‘I think she has been falling down a lot more often lately.’”
“Joann is a nurse, and also an incredible mom, so she has a keen eye for this kind of thing,” Scott Marlow said.
At the time, they did not think it was a huge issue. On the day after last Christmas, Scott Marlow noticed there were some other things amiss with his daughter.
“We were in Kentucky with Joann’s family, and as is typical, I was hanging out with all the other kids – I tend to become a big kid, playing with them,” Scott Marlow said.
“We were playing a game, running from one side of the room to the other, a tag game. I noticed Savannah was running straight, but her head was cocked to the right, and she was looking out of the corner of her eye.”
There were also other signs something was wrong. Savannah had headaches, though she had trouble describing them specifically.
“A 4-year-old doesn’t know what a headache is,” Joann Marlow said. “She would say ‘my headband hurts the back of my head.’ She didn’t have the words for it.”
The Marlows decided they needed to get Savannah to a specialist as soon as possible, but this was no easy task. Local ophthalmologists and optometrists were not immediately available.
They were able to see a local Lebanon optometrist the same afternoon they called, and the next day for the ophthalmologist in Nashville, who normally has a three-month wait.
“It truly was a miracle,” Joann Marlow said.
When Savannah saw the ophthalmologist, doctors determined Savannah needed an MRI. The doctor asked Joann if her husband would be with her when the results of an MRI were revealed.
“I didn’t know what the diagnosis would be, but I knew when he said that, it was something serious. I knew Scott needed to be there,” Joann Marlow said.
Savannah had a cancerous tumor that was 4 centimeters in diameter on the back of her brain in the cerebellum. She would go into surgery the next day to remove the tumor.
The name of the cancer is medulloblastoma. After surgery, many patients have side effects, including a change in their mood or losing the ability to move or eat. Savannah maintained a sunny disposition, though she did experience some of the other effects.
“She was cheerful, but she lost the ability to use her eyes well,” Scott Marlow said. “She could still see, but her eyes were droopy. She lost the ability to use her hands and feet, and she couldn’t hold her head up.”
After the surgery, Savannah would need to undergo proton radiation therapy. The children are educated through a home schooling program, and the family elected to go to Boston for Savannah’s treatment, due in part to the history associated with that city.
“There were only, I think, 12 centers in the U.S.,” Scott said. “One of the reasons we chose Boston was, we could go over to Bunker Hill and tell [the children] about Bunker Hill while we’re right there.”
While undergoing therapy in Boston, Savannah needed the support of her family, Joann Marlow said.
“Thankfully, by the grace of God, we were able to be there with her,” she said.
Savannah’s proton therapy in Boston lasted for several weeks. Upon returning to Middle Tennessee, Savannah soon had to start chemotherapy treatment. She will undergo that treatment until April 2017.
Scott Marlow said his goal for Savannah was for her to be able to walk on her own when she left Boston.
“On the day we left, she could just almost do it,” he said. “If you kind of hovered over her, ready to catch her if she started to fall, she could go maybe 10 steps on her own.”
Savannah’s condition has improved. From a medical perspective, Scott Marlow said, his daughter has about an 80-percent chance of survival. He and the family have faith, however, that she absolutely will make it through.
In January, Joann and Scott Marlow started a Facebook page, “Savannah’s Faith.” From there, they updated interested community members on Savannah’s health. They also sent and continue to send prayer requests.
“One thing I noticed is people ask for specific prayer requests,” Scott Marlow said. “They know that we need the prayers, that we want the prayers, but they want to know specifically what to pray about.”
They started updating the page with requests, such as asking community members to pray that Savannah would have an appetite, or that she would be able to walk.
Many of the posts use the tag “#butGod” and ask for people to pray at certain times in the day, including 7:28 both in the morning and evening, because Savannah’s birthday is July 28.
The tag “#butGod” comes from a Bible verse that is significant to the family, and Joann has a necklace with the words “but God” on it.
“Not once have we said ‘why, God, why us?” Scott Marlow said.
The name of the Facebook page “Savannah’s Faith” has two meanings, the faith in Savannah’s ability to recover, and her middle name, which is Faith. The page now has more than 3,000 “likes.”
“She says she’s the princess of Facebook,” Scott Marlow said. “She doesn’t even know what Facebook is, but she knows there are pictures of her on there, and that people always want to know how she’s doing.”
The Marlow family moved to Wilson County about three years ago, and Scott Marlow said he was amazed to see the community support that has gathered behind their family.
“To see how much everyone cares, it means so much to us,” he said.
The entire experience has helped the family grow in their religious faith, both parents said.
“I just want God to get glory,” Joann Marlow said. “This is awful. Cancer is a horrible thing, but if some good will come out of it, at the very least, we want God to receive glory.
“We’re trusting God will take care of us.”
Scott and Joann Marlow said they occasionally get questions from people in the community who want to make a financial contribution to help their situation.
“We appreciate the offers to help financially, but we are doing OK,” Joann Marlow said. “We’d rather others make contributions to the cancer organization of their choice, such as our local charity Sherry’s Run.”
Something they do want, and solicit on a regular basis?
“Prayers,” Scott Marlow said. “That’s all we ask for.”
By Jake Old