Change of Course

Springfield Public Schools student Savannah Hollan went from a life of playing volleyball and attending sporting events to learning she had a cancerous brain tumor. Learn how Launch allows her to continue her high school education.
By Savannah Waszczuk

Springfield Public Schools student Savannah Hollan went from a life of playing volleyball and attending sporting events to learning she had a cancerous brain tumor. Learn how Launch allows her to continue her high school education.

If it was a Friday night and the Parkview Vikings had a home game, you’d likely find Springfield Public Schools student Savannah Hollan cheering from the stands. “I loved going to games,” says Savannah, who is reflecting on her years in middle school. “I’d always go to games with my friends. We’d go to football games and basketball games.”

Savannah continues reminiscing. Next she talks about all of the time she used to spend with her friends outside of school or school-related functions. “We would go to the mall a lot,” she says. “We’d either be at the mall, or we’d be going different places around town taking pictures.”

Today things are different. In fact, they’ve been different since March 3, 2016. “March 3 was the day we found out about the tumor,” says Krissy Clayton, Savannah’s mother and (now) full-time caretaker. What Savannah’s doctors discovered was medulloblastoma, a cancerous tumor that—upon removal—drastically changed Savannah’s life.

The End of Eighth Grade

For most of her time at Carver Middle School, Savannah earned good grades. She dabbled with the debate club, and she played on the volleyball team. In fact, she was looking forward to continuing volleyball as a freshman at Parkview High School. But it was near the end of eighth grade when her grades plummeted. She started going home early frequently—often from headaches and other flu-like symptoms.

“I started getting dizzy a lot, and my vision was messed up,” Savannah says, discussing the many complications she was suddenly experiencing. “I had headaches and motion sickness. Eventually I started throwing up from any type of movement at all.”

As Savannah’s symptoms worsened,  her mother took her to urgent care and demanded answers. “They found a lesion on a CT scan and then asked us if we wanted to go to Kansas City or St. Louis,” Krissy says. “We chose St. Louis, and they got us on a Life Flight. When we got there, they told us she had a brain tumor.”

Savannah’s first operation was at 7 a.m. the next morning. “That first surgery took six hours,” Krissy says. “After it was over, they told us that it was medulloblastoma—it was cancerous—and she would need radiation and chemo.”

The family moved to Memphis for three months of radiation treatments. Not long after arriving in Memphis, they learned Savannah would need another surgery—specialists discovered more of the tumor that still needed to be removed. “She actually walked out of the first surgery in St. Louis,” Krissy says. “They ended up doing a second brain surgery within 30 days, and that was the surgery that took away her ability to walk. It affected her voice and her motor skills.”


Going “Back to School”

The effects of Savannah’s surgeries made it nearly impossible for her to go back to sitting in a classroom all day. Today she isn’t able to walk without assistance—she uses a wheelchair or a walker. And that’s after months of physical therapy. She also has double vision, and she suffers from frequent headaches. Due to all of these complications, it was decided that Savannah would begin her freshman year as a full-time virtual student with Launch.

It was rough in the beginning. “She was still so sick at that time, and she got behind,” says Kimmy Carr, Savannah’s grandmother who lives two houses down from Savannah and also helps care for her. “She was only able to earn three credits that year.” But she eventually found her rhythm and her way. Last semester she took 10 classes, and in spring 2020 she will take the final four classes she needs to graduate.

Finding Flexibility With Launch

Now that Savannah has several semesters under her belt, she and her family are well-versed in making sure she is successful in her Launch courses. “The teachers all call home at the beginning of each semester to welcome us to the class,” Krissy says. “This gives me a chance to tell them about Savannah’s situation right away. I have had really good experiences every time I’ve talked with the teachers. A lot of them are parents, so they get it. They allow us flexibility.”

Savannah credits this flexibility for allowing her to complete her courses. “One of the bad side effects from the tumor is that I have terrible headaches,” Savannah says. “Sometimes I just can’t pick it up and get school work done. But I work ahead at other times when I feel well. And if I end up having to turn something in late, I know the teachers will be understanding.”

In addition to flexibility, Savannah is also grateful of her homebound teacher, Mr. Jason Arredondo from Kickapoo High School (pictured below). “He comes to help any time we need him to,” Savannah says. “He’s incredible.” Krissy and Kimmy agree. “Sometimes he’ll stay an hour, or sometimes he’ll stay five,” Krissy says. “When she was getting ready for finals, he was here seven days in a row. If she has a test she’s getting ready for, he’ll come help. I think he’s excited that she wants to work. If she’s willing to work, he’s willing to show up.”

As Savannah continues to balance her days with physical therapy and Launch coursework, she says she is nothing but grateful—she feels that if it weren’t for Launch, she likely wouldn’t be able to graduate. “I’m really thankful that it was there,” Savannah says. “It was nice to have the option to go at my own pace.”