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Saville and Lilia Sullivan,
Sisters from Albany, Georgia
Sisters. Sisters who are only three years apart share a strong common bond of love, a fighting spirit, and personalities that are endearing. They also share a journey that no one would ever want to travel. These two remarkable girls were both diagnosed with brain cancer at essentially the same time. As unimaginable as it is for these girls and their family to comprehend, it also puzzles the medical community. The tumors of both girls are different types, in different locations of their brains, and there appears to be no genetic link to its cause. Saville and Lilia Sullivan’s story of strength and hope is truly an inspiration.
Lilia is a typical seventeen year old. Almost. She is driven scholastically, athletically, and socially. She has always been the picture of health. From powder puff football serving as the team’s quarterback to running on her school’s track team to coming in second place in state tennis where she was also selected as All-Region for her team, she thrives on competition. In August of 2016, she had just returned from a community service trip to South Africa and had then served for three weeks as an LIT (Leader in Training) at Camp High Harbour at Lake Burton. Her parents noticed she was tired, but who wouldn’t be with such an active summer? She awakened her mother in the middle of night with nausea complaints only to then suffer a full blown seizure. It was then that her journey began with a diagnosis of a brain tumor. This tumor was initially deemed inoperable, however, the exceptionally talented team of physicians and caregivers at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite knew the risk was one they needed to take. It was an extremely tough decision as she was made aware of the potential outcomes of surgery at the same time that her parents were. Her competitive spirit kicked into full gear. In the past seven months, she has successfully tackled a brain biopsy, an eight hour plus brain surgery, radiation treatments, and currently takes ongoing oral chemotherapy. Would you believe this girl is already back on the tennis team playing in the number one doubles spot? Her journey is not over, but she is determined to succeed against this disease and succeed in life.
Saville is twenty years old. As she was visiting her younger sister at CHOA during her surgery, she mentioned that she had a lingering headache which was thought to be a sinus infection. If you know anything about Saville, you know that even if she were in excruciating pain, she is always going to be focusing on the other person. Others come first in her life – especially when dealing with the diagnosis her sister was just given. Saville’s strength and endearing charm stem from her kindness and compassion. That loving personality is clearly evident at the University of Alabama where she is a sophomore and a member of Kappa Delta sorority. Like her sister with the competitive spirit, Saville has the courageous spirit. She decided to break UGA tradition from her many family members and go to a little football school in Tuscaloosa knowing only two people, and one was her roommate. That courage kicked in and she tackled the social and academic scene with much energy and success. It was no accident that after learning the devastating news about her tumor just one month later, that the strong Greek community came together and many of the UA sorority houses hung banners of support in her name. After her diagnosis, Saville too came to CHOA for her surgery which was performed by the same medical team that treated Lilia. She has now completed her own all day surgery event, weeks of proton radiation in Jacksonville, FL, and is now undergoing monthly chemotherapy treatments at CHOA’s Aflac Cancer Center. Her plan is to re-enroll at the University of Alabama this fall. Alabama’s tag line is “where legends are made”. Saville will no doubt show off her courage again there soon and will definitely be a champion of life that, like her sister, will inspire us all.
Life can change on all of us – quickly and unexpectedly. It certainly did for the Sullivans in a major way this past fall, and it certainly did for the Sullivan sisters. Yet, their bond is strengthened beyond comprehension, and as unimaginable as the journey has been and will continue to be, their spirit and strength touches all of our hearts. Living in Albany, GA, the community’s support has been humbling, to say the least. Countless business signs throughout town coined the phrase “Sullivan Strong” to show their support and encouragement. It is the girls’ strength and faith that are our inspiration as our family continues the fight against brain cancers. We are passionate about this cause to help ensure long and healthy lives for our children now and others in the future and know that continued research is the key.
Lilia, 17, (left) and Saville 20, (right) Sullivan