A few months ago, 10-year-old Signal Mountain resident Savannah Turner had a weird feeling in her mouth that wouldn't go away. She went to several dentists before being referred to an oral surgeon — who discovered and removed the tumor in her jawbone.
A local pathologist identified the tumor as benign, but to be sure, the oral surgeon also sent the tumor to pathologists in Memphis and Miami for testing. Both returned the same results, and in February Savannah was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a very rare type of bone cancer that begins in the cells that form bones.
"It's extremely rare, with just 400 cases a year, usually in children ages 10-20," said Savannah's mother, Lisa Turner.
Osteosarcoma most commonly occurs in the long bones of the arms and legs, but it can be found in any bone. When it occurs in the limbs, the typical course of action is amputation, so Turner said she was very grateful the tumor wasn't on Savannah's leg.
"She was so healthy all the time," Turner said of Savannah, who won her age bracket in a triathlon last year. "Her doctor at Vanderbilt said [the tumor] was just the combination of bad luck and genes."
At press time, Savannah was in the ninth week of her 30-week chemotherapy treatment at Children's Hospital at Erlanger. Insurance doesn't cover all of Savannah's medical expenses, and when Natasha Jones, who attends Signal Mountain Church of Christ with the Turner family, heard about the mounting costs, she began pooling resources in the community to host a fundraiser for Savannah.
The result of her efforts is the Barbecue Bluegrass Benefit for Savannah Turner, to be held at Off the Grill II Saturday, April 22 starting at 4 p.m. A $10 minimum donation is requested per barbecue plate.
Jones said that wherever she turned for help with the event, the community stepped in with generosity. Items donated for the silent auction include artwork from The Freckled Peddler, certificates and bonds from FSG Bank, quilts and restaurant gift cards. Webbco Graphics helped spread the word with free fliers.
"As a community, Signal Mountain is very special in the way they rally around their own," said Jones.
Animal Hospital of Signal Mountain, where Jones is a managing vet, donated funds to cover the cost of the barbecue, and four bluegrass bands will be sharing their talents throughout the afternoon. Quintin "Chef Q" Perry, who coincidentally is also currently undergoing chemotherapy to treat his chronic lymphocytic leukemia, is donating his restaurant space for the event.
"He's really excited about participating in this event," said Perry's fiancee, Stephanie Brown. "He happens to be going through treatment at the same time, so this really hit home."
Savannah's story also hit home for Jones, who had a scare when her own daughter developed a small tumor on her face that turned out to be benign. But she knows the terrifying feeling of realizing that you may not get to see your child grow up.
Those who are unable to attend the benefit can still help Savannah and the Turner family by donating to the Savannah Turner Fund established at SunTrust Bank, or on her page at youcaring.com.
Savannah is a talented artist who loves horses, and Jones had several of her drawings turned into notecards. The cards are being sold as a fundraiser for Savannah. They cost $10 for four and can be purchased at the benefit or at Animal Hospital of Signal Mountain, 1801 Taft Highway.
Off the Grill II is at 1904 Taft Highway and can be reached at 531-3053.