Voris family celebrates a return to normalcy
By Jim Shilander
On many San Clemente streets Thursday, San Clemente parents had their phones and cameras out, hoping to preserve the memory of their kindergartener headed to school for the first time, or their new middle-schooler or new Triton. Some students might have even got in on the act, getting ready to document the start of their senior year through social media.
But one San Clemente family held the moment a little tighter. Because a year ago, it wasn’t certain that the moment would come.
Last September, Saylor Voris, then a sophomore at San Clemente High School, was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. Suddenly, the cheerleader who’d spent her time in front of crowds of thousands, was suddenly forced to spend much of her time alone or with only her family and caregivers at Children’s Hospital of Orange County. And, after receiving a bone marrow transplant in February, Saylor had to be quarantined. She often spent days at a time in bed, even at home, where she returned home last March.
But on Thursday, things were different. She’d been able to go out for sometime, attending the Relay for Life and San Clemente Ocean Festival. But the 180-day quarantine officially ended on Aug. 14, just in time for cheer camp. And, aside from walking with a pair of crutches, there was little to distinguish Saylor from the hundreds of other students at SCHS Thursday.
“I’m a little tired, but it was really great to be back,” Saylor said.
Saylor actually made her varsity cheer debut at the Triton football opener Friday, Aug. 29. She had been practicing with the team since the previous school year ended but had been limited by the effects of her illness and the drugs she had to take.
But camp let her be a bit freer.
“It was really fun,” Saylor said. “I really bonded with my team. We learned a bunch of new cheers, a bunch of stuff we’re going to do at football games. It was like a vacation.”
Saylor said when she woke up last Thursday, she was in a different frame of mind than many of her fellow students. She didn’t think of the day as the start of something but as a finish.
“I was thinking, ‘I did it, I made it,’” she said. “I’m going to school. I was really happy about going back. It wasn’t a sad, ‘Oh summer’s over.’ It was, ‘Yay, it’s finally over. I’m going back.’ It was one of the best days I’ve had in a while.”
Saylor said most of the students she hadn’t seen throughout her treatment were surprised to see her back, since they’d been aware of her illness through social media and fundraisers and events held at the school. For the friends with whom she’s been in close contact, Saylor said, it was much more about a return to normalcy.
Much of the first day anxiety was felt by Konnie Voris, Saylor’s mother.
“I was up all night long,” Konnie said. “It didn’t seem real. A year’s a long time, and now it was finally here. And I was so glad that she made it. We’re very proud of her because she’s kept up a great attitude the entire time. With so much going on, it could have been so crappy but she’s focused on the positive the entire time. That was a huge help. She couldn’t wait to go to bed, because she wanted to wake up and go to school.”
Saylor’s return to school also means a change for Konnie. She’s been with Saylor all day, every day for nearly a year.
“Today’s the first day I’ve been by myself. I didn’t know what to do today,” Konnie said. “It was weird. But it was a good weird.”
Saylor still faces medical challenges. The steroids she’s forced to take weaken musculature near her hips and knees, making it difficult to stand for long periods, so she often has to sit on her cheerleading box while her teammates stand, though she participates as much as she can. Saylor likely won’t be able to begin weaning off of the drugs until November. She also has to take a number of other medications, which she does before and after school, so as to not worry about it during the day.
There’s also work to catch up on. While she was able to keep up academically during her convalescence, Saylor still has the concerns any junior might have, such as preparing for the SAT, though she wasn’t able to participate in the practice exams with her classmates last year.
Konnie said there are still worries, but it was nice to have a fresh start for the family, which also includes father John Voris and brother Sam.
“I’m just thinking about one day at a time, that’s all that I can do”, Konnie said. “Life’s sort of starting to feel normal, even if it’s a new normal.”