Savanna Cortvriend’s friends and family describe her as loud, shy but friendly, stubborn, imaginative, bubbly, goofy, outgoing, articulate, and witty.Judging by this, you’d never believe that when she was only 12, Savanna lost her father to cancer.
She came home from her friend Katie’s house that night, and her mother was running frantically around the house, and told her that she’d be going back to Katie’s. Naturally, she replied that she’d just been there, but her mother told her she was going back. It was then that her eyes found her father at the kitchen table.
He was crying.
“That was the first time I’d ever seen him cry,” the Castleton State College freshman said.
Andrew Cortvriend was a big man with a beard that was not only a physical characteristic, but also a personality trait.
“One time he shaved it off, and I screamed. I didn’t speak to him for like three weeks until he agreed to grow it back,” said Savanna, laughing.
“Their relationship was very teasing and loving. He gave her a hard time, but in a joking way,” said Katie Schulz, Savanna’s best friend from childhood.
In July there was a period of medical testing to see what was wrong with Andrew. Savanna went off to camp like she had every summer before, and her parents spent time traveling to different doctors and hospitals.
“I never missed her so much as that summer when she was away,” said Terri Cortvriend, Savanna’s mother.
They found out Andrew had cancer and from then on, everything changed.
“Our entire life schedule kind of ran around when dad had chemo,” said Savanna
“I think she tried to remain very hopeful,” said Ella Miller, Savanna’s God sibling.
Every winter since Savanna could remember, her family went to Vermont to ski. By then, the doctors said the cancer was in remission, and gone. Andrew was able to ski with her, and it seemed like things would get better. It was also one of the best ski-racing seasons Savanna ever had.
“My dad was a cancer survivor, not a cancer patient,” said Savanna.
But that was their last winter with Andrew.
The following summer, Savanna went off to camp once more.
“I know this took a tremendous amount of courage on her part,” said Terri.
When she got home from camp, the physical change in her father was more than Savanna wanted to see. Andrew was no longer that big guy. He was skinny, and visibly sick. Doctors were in the house constantly.
A few months later, on Sept. 6, 2006, Andrew passed away.
Savanna was picked up that day, brought home only to shower and say goodbye before she’d be spending the night at one of her mom’s friend’s houses. Her mother did not want her there when he passed. She didn’t want to be there, either.
“Her strength and composure that afternoon made all the adults cry,” Mary Cortvriend, Savanna’s grandmother, said.
Savanna told him that she loved him, and that she’d miss him before she left, and at 9:30 p.m. she received the call that he was gone.
Andrew’s funeral was outside a nature preserve, so instead of a headstone he has a tree in memory of him.
“She could not handle the emotions at first. She was 12 and her world was suddenly turned on its head,” Schulz said.
Andrew donated his body to Brown’s medical center for cancer research.
The family received his ashes in February of 2008.
That May, they hiked up Okemo Muntain, walked down his favorite trail and sprinkled his ashes as they walked.
For her senior class project, in order to graduate, Savanna organized a grief counseling group at school for other teenagers who had lost a close family member.
“Savanna chose to take a difficult life changing loss and turn it into an opportunity,” Terri said.