KERNERSVILLE, N.C. (WGHP) — Nearly 10,000 children under the age of 15 in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer in 2023. The treatment they’ll endure to get better is grueling.

Savanna Williams, of Kernersville, wants to change that, and she’s uniquely qualified to make a difference. 

“The goal is to get a PhD in biomedicine with a concentration in pharmacology and toxicology,” she said.

Savanna just finished her first year at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine and plans to use her education to develop and design new drugs and treatments for cancer patients.

“I’m not satisfied with extreme nausea and vomiting being a standard side effect,” Savanna said. “I’m unwilling to accept a lot of the realities that are kind of standard in the field right now.”

For her, this is personal. At age 14, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is cancer of the white blood cells.

“It is life changing,” Savanna said. “You view the world very differently than you did before, and everything that you saw as important at the time became very unimportant.”

During the course of her two-and-a-half years of cancer treatment, she was in and out of Brenner Children’s Hospital, sometimes for weeks at a time. The nurses and doctors were wonderful, but the treatment itself was really hard on her body.

“For two-and-a-half years, she was a sick child,” said Chad Williams, Savanna’s father. “She couldn’t walk. She didn’t have the strength … to put herself into the bathtub to take a bath.”

Savanna credits a horse named Ollie, who she received through Make-A-Wish Foundation in 2015, with restoring her mobility.

“My dad would pick me up, carry me up the mounting blocks and put me on the horse, and that was really my outing,” Savanna said. “That’s what I lived for at that point.”

It was the hardest time of their lives, yet it was peppered with some of their best memories. Somehow, the Williams family still managed to laugh a lot. 

“There are a couple pictures that trigger me every time, but I keep them as a reminder of what we went through,” Chad said. “This is hopefully the lowest point in her life and then thinking about what it is that she’s going to accomplish moving forward.”

It’s an experience that has shaped her life and given her the motivation to shape countless others.

“I think living through an illness or being around people that have to go through illness makes you much more invested in finding solutions,” Savanna said. “And I think you consider options that other people don’t think of when looking at a problem on paper.”