Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, June 23, 2016
Island graduate beats cancer at young age, focuses on future
Savannah Lowrey has had support from her mom Sabrina Lowrey Shaw, right, and stepfather Dan Shaw during her journey.
by Monique Labbe
On November 10, 1998, recent Deer Isle-Stonington High School graduate Savannah Lowrey was just over 1 year old. Her mother, Sabrina Lowrey Shaw, who had just graduated from the Island high school herself, dropped her daughter off at daycare in Portland, where she was living and going to college. It was a morning routine repeated daily; however, that day something was different.
“I got a call [from the daycare] saying that Savannah wasn’t acting right,” said Shaw during an interview Tuesday, June 21. “I picked her up and brought her to the health care center on Munjoy Hill [in Portland]. She was clammy and really wasn’t feeling well. The doctor came in and checked her out and then walked out and didn’t say much.”
After waiting for the doctor to come back in, Shaw got the news no mother ever wants to hear.
“He said, ‘There’s really no easy way to say this, but your daughter has retinoblastoma.’ I had no idea what that was,” she said.
Retinoblastoma, which only occurs in one of every 20,000 children, is an eye cancer that begins in the retina.
“It was heartbreaking,” said Shaw. “We brought her to Boston to get a second opinion, and there, 10 days after we found out she had cancer, she had her first surgery to get her eye removed.”
After the removal, Lowrey was fitted with a prosthetic eye, hand-painted and crafted by her doctor. Over the next few years, Lowrey would have to get a new eye as she grew up.
“I have most of them; I think there might be a couple missing, though,” said Lowrey, adding that a couple of family members also have one of her old prosthetics.
Since that initial surgery, Lowrey has been cancer free and thriving. She graduated from Deer Isle-Stonington High School earlier this month and plans to attend the University of Southern Maine in the fall to study criminology. She was accepted to the university’s honors program.
During her school years, Lowrey would have to make trips to Boston regularly throughout the year to meet with her doctor to make sure everything was going smoothly. While she does not remember much about the first few years of those trips, Lowrey says she does remember waking up “way too early.”
“We used to have to wake up so early because we’d leave at 5 a.m., drive to Boston and then drive back home all in one day,” she said.
Lowrey has kept a good attitude throughout all of her surgeries and appointments, but dealing with the issue of having only one functioning eye was not without its complications.
“Some of the kids could be pretty mean to me,” said Lowrey of her first two years of high school, which were spent at Ellsworth High School.
“There were kids who would call her Deadeye,” added stepfather Dan Shaw. “There was a point her sophomore year where she was out of school for three weeks before we convinced her to go back and finish the year.”
Lowrey transferred to Deer Isle-Stonington High School during her junior year, where she said the students were much more accepting.
“Nobody really said anything about it,” she said.
Over the last several years, Lowrey has become an advocate for young girls going through retinoblastoma, attending yearly camps in the summer at Camp Jordan in Ellsworth. She will attend again this July.
“Young girls going through the same things she’s been through really seem to look up to her,” said Shaw. “She gets contacted a lot on Facebook and stuff.”
Lowrey said she is excited about going to school in the fall, keeping a positive attitude about her future plans.
“I don’t really know what I want to do [with criminology],” said Lowrey. “It’s kind of up in the air. The only thing I really can’t do is become a pilot, for obvious reasons.”