If Savannah Bay Strandin could go back and change her cancer diagnosis, she wouldn’t.
“I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t been diagnosed,” said Strandin, 27, who had plans to move to New York after she graduated from Western Illinois University and take the world of musical theater by storm.
In spring 2018, after working as a professional actor for a year and a half, she was starting to do just that, getting ready for production in Texas. She then started having body aches and experiencing unusual fatigue. Because she had classic symptoms, doctors initially told her she had mononucleosis and that the best medicine was a lot of rest.
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As she hoped, the Guilford High School graduate started feeling better and was ready to begin the show. Then came a cough she tried to kick before opening night. But it wasn’t to be. Her hacking persisted, and she was eventually replaced by an understudy.
Come to find out, Strandin wasn’t suffering from mono at all. She had stage 4 lymphoma and almost immediately found herself in the intensive care unit. The cancer was quickly robbing her body of protein, causing her to gain nearly 50 pounds of water weight within days.
“Protein helps fluid flow through you,” she said. “When the protein isn’t there, the fluid has nowhere to go. So, it all went between my skin and my muscles. I didn’t recognize my own body.”
While going though intense chemotherapy, Strandin needed assistance to do things most people can take for granted like walking and using the restroom. But, after only five months, she received a much different diagnosis: the cancer was in remission.
Nine months after that, she was cast in a production of “Singin’ in the Rain” at Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse in Rock Island, Illinois. It’s again her full-time gig, and she’s not looking back.
Strandin just finished a run as Belle in a production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” at Circa ’21 and is starring in “Disaster!”, a 1970’s movie spoof that opened July 22 and runs through Sept. 10.
“I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t do theater and I couldn’t perform,” she said.
Even before remission, she wasn’t preparing for a life away from the stage. She never gave herself an option of doing something else, even though in the back of her mind she knew that could have been the case.
“I just said, ‘OK, I need to work hard and push myself to get back to where I was,'” she said. “This is what I feel like I was born to do. I love who I’ve become because of (cancer). I am a stronger person. I am a more grateful person, and I am just more appreciative of life and all the ups and downs that come with it.”
Glendia Strandin remembers how the disease went from subtle, yet frustrating symptoms to a tempest of maladies that brought with it all the uncertainty, fear and at times helplessness she worried her daughter wouldn’t be able to bear.
“I saw my daughter on her deathbed,” Glendia Strandin said. “But I have never seen anyone be so positive. She was sleeping when the doctor came in and told us the diagnosis. I woke her up, and she he looked at me said, ‘Mom, it’s going to be OK.’ She was that way the entire time.”
Today, Strandin lives in Davenport, Iowa, and is engaged to fellow actor Tristan Tapscott. The couple met during the production of “Singin’ in the Rain” and have been performing together ever since.
“He was Cogsworth in ‘Beauty and the Beast’,” she said. “In ‘Disaster!’, he plays my fiancé.”
Strandin and Tapscott are getting married in October.
Tickets for “Disaster!” can be reserved by calling 309-786-7733. Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse is at 828 3rd Ave., Rock Island, about 125 miles from Rockford.
Jim Hagerty covers general news, schools, and courts. Contact him at 815-987-1345 [email protected] Twitter: @jimhagerty Facebook: /hagertyjim