1 year post AML diagnosis Koach Allstar’s Savannah Gunn continues to inspire!
By Ashlee Buhler
It was a typical day at practice for 14-year-old Koach Allstar cheerleader Savannah Gunn. She had completed one of her strongest tumbling passes that night, even mastered some new skills—everything was going great! That’s when the phone call came — the phone call that would drastically change life as she knew it. What Savannah and her family thought was routine lab work to find a potential cause for her sudden rashes and bruising came back extremely abnormal. She needed to be evaluated in the emergency room immediately.
The date June 17, 2021 will now forever have significant meaning to the Gunn family. It’s the day Savannah was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Instead of hanging with friends, relaxing at home, and learning new tricks in the gym, Savannah would spend her summer in the Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, undergoing two rounds of aggressive chemotherapy. She was told she wouldn’t be able to cheer with her team all season, but would soon learn just how much the entire cheer community was cheering for her.
The very next day, June 18, 2021, Savannah began treatment. On her very first day of chemotherapy, her Koach Allstar family, who she has cheered with for all seven years of her career, lined the streets outside the hospital with balloons and signs of support, bringing a smile to Savannah’s face on one of her most challenging days. Shawna, Savannah’s mother, described that day as one of the most inspiring and emotional moments of the entire journey for Savannah’s family
During her second round of chemo, Savannah received care packages and shirts from All Star gyms across the country — one to be opened for each day of chemotherapy. It’s gestures like this that make the darkest days a little brighter.
“The support system throughout my journey has been amazing,” said Savannah, who is now 15-years-old. “I wouldn’t have been able to be here today without everyone who supports me. I’m so grateful for the community I have.”
On September 22, 2021, Savannah moved three and a half hours away from home to undergo a lifesaving bone marrow transplant at the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital. She was discharged on October 14th but required to stay in Minneapolis for 100 days post-transplant for monitoring. To prevent relapse, Savannah takes an oral chemotherapy pill, which she will continue to take until the one year anniversary of her transplant.
Months of fighting cancer might leave the average person emotionally and physically exhausted, but for Savannah, her determination to return to cheer was much greater. When she returned to Iowa at the start of 2022, she began tumbling privates to regain her strength. By February 12th, against all the odds, she was back on the mat competing with her team. Absolutely unwilling to let anything get in her way, Savannah went on to compete in four competitions during the 2022 season, including a paid bid at The Summit. She wasn’t even a year into her cancer diagnosis. Not even a year out from the day she was told she wouldn’t be cheering with her team this season. Yet there she was, back on the mat donning her black, sparkly, Koach embellished uniform doing what she loves; making memories that will last a lifetime.
“My favorite cheer memory is when I was competing at my third comp back from transplant,” Savannah said. “This was the first competition I was tumbling at and I was so nervous for my pass. I remember being on the stage, about to do my pass, and I could hear the crowd cheering for me. It gave me so much confidence! Once I landed it felt so unreal. The crowd roared and we hit a 0 deduction routine.”
In April, one of Savannah’s biggest dreams came true when she got to attend Cheerleading Worlds through the Make A Wish Foundation. An experience she describes as “unreal,” Savannah had a front row seat to cheer on her favorite teams, including her dream team the Cheer Athletics Cheetahs.
“I’ve looked up to these teams since the start of my cheer career and seeing them up close was amazing,” Savannah said. “I am so grateful I was able to bond with the teams and watch them put on some amazing performances.”
While in Orlando she was also able to meet one of her biggest inspirations, former Cheetah Makayla Noble, who was paralyzed after injuring her spinal cord in a cheerleading accident in September 2021. Savannah has followed Makayla since the start of her cheer career.
“When Makayla had her accident I was in the hospital for my transplant,” Savannah said. “Feeling like my situation was very similar to hers and seeing how she was so positive through all of it made me have even more hope. No matter what, Makayla was also so strong. When I got to meet her at worlds she was the sweetest. I’m so glad I have someone like her to look up to.”
Rest assured there are thousands of people looking up to Savannah now too. For every challenge that comes her way, she faces it with the same bright spirit and energy she brings to the cheer mat. She is the epitome of strength and determination; making the most of every situation, even in the most difficult times.
And for every member of the cheer community who has had her back and shown support through this unexpected phase of life, Savannah is thankful for them all. Every single one.
“Our cheer family has helped us since day one of my cancer journey,” Savannah said. “Without them I can’t imagine what it would have been like.”
As for the future, Savannah dreams of helping others. She hopes to use her experience to continue promoting advocacy and funding for research and innovation for pediatric cancer treatment. She also dreams of attending the Aveda Institute, a top cosmetology school, to help others feel comfortable in their skin, no matter what they are challenged with. Sure she’d love to make a Worlds team along the way and maybe even coach in the sport someday—she’s got plenty of time to figure it out! But no matter where she goes or what she does, Savannah Gunn is sure to make an everlasting impact.
She already has.
Photos courtesy of Savannah Gunn
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