Brain cancer survivor beat odds, supports McCain

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Heather Knies was diagnosed with glioblastoma at the age of 26 but survived. (Source: Heather Knies) Heather Knies was diagnosed with glioblastoma at the age of 26 but survived. (Source: Heather Knies)
Knies sought treatment with world renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Richard Spetzler at Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. (Source: Heather Knies) Knies sought treatment with world renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Richard Spetzler at Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. (Source: Heather Knies)
After some of the tumor was removed, there was chemotherapy and radiation for six months, and then an additional two-and-half years of more chemotherapy. (Source: Heather Knies) After some of the tumor was removed, there was chemotherapy and radiation for six months, and then an additional two-and-half years of more chemotherapy. (Source: Heather Knies)
Knies credits her support system, great doctors, faith and positive attitude for her successful fight against the deadly disease. (Source: Heather Knies) Knies credits her support system, great doctors, faith and positive attitude for her successful fight against the deadly disease. (Source: Heather Knies)
Knies and her husband now have a beautiful 5-year-old daughter. (Source: Heather Knies) Knies and her husband now have a beautiful 5-year-old daughter. (Source: Heather Knies)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

At 26, Phoenix resident Heather Knies was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer almost always deadly.

“It's tough to find out you have stage 4 brain cancer. You have a little bit of shock and when that wears off you've got to navigate your options,” said Knies.

The young professional had recently graduated college and just moved to Phoenix from Missouri. She had her whole life ahead of her. And then came the devastating news.  

Knies sought treatment with world renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Spetzler at Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. 

“Before my second surgery, Dr. Spetzler explained that if he removed all of it, my left side would probably be paralyzed. And knowing it was a grade 4 glioblastoma, they weren't giving me much quantity. So, I thought, you know, I’m going to go for quality of life here. Is there any way you can just remove as much as you can without leaving my left side paralyzed? He said he would do his best, but I’m sure in his heart of hearts he knew that leaving any behind is really risky,” said Knies.

According to Knies, Spetzler took out what he could of the tumor, but much remained. What followed was chemotherapy and radiation for six months, and then an additional two and half years of more chemotherapy, with MRI’s every two months.

“I was on my death bed through my dual treatments of radiation and chemo. There were days I couldn't get out of bed and I would just pray. It was rough. Probably, the darkest times I ever hope I have,” said Knies.

That was 10 years ago. Today, Knies is cancer free, undergoing MRI's every three months as a precaution.

“I can't believe it's ever going to come back. If I do, I leave that chance that it will and I don't want to give it that. I don't want to give it even an inkling that it could come back. No! You're gone. I'm done with you. I squashed you. Bye,” said Knies confidently. 

The news of Sen. John McCain’s diagnosis of glioblastoma hit Knies hard. She said whenever she hears anybody get diagnoses, a little part of her breaks.

[READ MORE: Sen. John McCain diagnosed with brain cancer]

“But, I also thought, this is somebody that's already been through hell and back. So, if anybody's going to come out of the other end like me, it would be him,” she said.

The pain, fear and shock that she believes McCain and his family are going through is something that Knies can understand. She first heard about the senator’s plight online.

“I wanted to reach through my computer screen and go, I am here. Let me help you. Let me be your ray of hope. Let me support you. I already went online and emailed him,” said Knies.

[RELATED: McCain says 'I'll be back soon' as he battles brain cancer]

During her last year of chemo, Knies said she talked with the man she was about to marry to let him know what he was signing up for. She said she was floored by his reaction. Instead of wanting to run away, her husband-to-be told her that he could get hit by a truck the next day, that no one was promised tomorrow.

The couple now has a beautiful 5-year-old daughter.

“Three years on chemo the No. 1 side effect is infertility. But we went in and Mama had some eggs left and another miracle I was given,” said Knies.

[RELATED: Doctors consider next treatment for McCain's brain tumor]

A large number of glioblastomas are located in the frontal lobes. That was not the case with the tumor Knies had.

Knies said according to Spetzler, glioblastoma is like real estate, it’s all about location. And hers was in as good a location as it could be, given the circumstances.

[WATCH: Barrow neurosurgeon explains McCain's diagnosis]

Knies credits her support system, great doctors, faith and positive attitude for her successful fight against the deadly disease. She feels confident McCain has what it takes to beat this.

“I know they'll stay strong. They're a tight knit family and that's what you need. It takes a village and he's got the support of millions behind him and so he's got everything he needs to beat it. I believe his family will be 110 percent supportive. I don't think they're going to waver a bit and that's what I had and that's what it takes,” said Knies. 

[RELATED: McCain's surgery anything but 'minor']

The saleswoman says she talks to people battling brain cancer nearly every day. She offers them hope and answers any questions they may have. Knies is well aware she is one of the rare few who live as long as she has, especially cancer free, with the diagnosis she was given. And she says she does not take even one day for granted.

“Life's too short to be upset about something. I might be sad for a little bit but you can't let it bring you down. Because what if you don't see tomorrow? Do you want your last day to be sad,” said Knies.

Knies said her message to Senator McCain and his family is, “You got this. You got this. You've been there done that. Be strong. Think positive. Pray hard.” 

[READ MORE: The absolutely remarkable life of John McCain]

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Donna RossiEmmy Award-winning reporter Donna Rossi joined CBS 5 News in September 1994.

Click to learn more about Donna.

Donna Rossi

In that time, Donna has covered some of the most high-profile stories in the Valley and across the state. Donna's experience as a four-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department gives her a keen sense of crime and court stories. She offered gavel to gavel coverage of the 1999 sleepwalking murder trial of Scott Falater, and the trial and conviction of retired Catholic Bishop Thomas O'Brien for a fatal hit and run accident. She also spent 2 straight weeks in northeastern Arizona in the summer of 2011 covering the Wallow Fire, the largest wildfire in Arizona history.

Donna's reputation as a fair and accurate journalist has earned her the respect of her colleagues and community. Her talent as a reporter has earned her more than a dozen Arizona Associated Press Awards and five Emmy statue.

Donna previously worked as an anchor and reporter in Tucson and got her start in broadcast journalism in Flagstaff. Donna is a past president of the Rocky Mountain Southwest Chapter of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences and currently serves on the NATAS board. She is a member of IFP/Phoenix, a non-profit organization of local film and documentary makers.

Donna was born in New York and moved to the Valley with her family when she was 9 years old. She is a graduate of Maryvale High School and attended Arizona State University. She graduated cum laude from Northern Arizona University.

In her free time, Donna enjoys boating on Bartlett Lake, all forms of music and theatre. Donna frequently donates her time to speak to community organizations and emcee their events. She is a past board member of DUET, a non-profit which helps promote health and well-being for older adults. Donna also loves donating her time to youth organizations and groups who work to secure and safeguard human rights.

On Oct. 17, 2015, Donna was honored for her amazing work over the years. The Rocky Mountain Chapter of the National Academy of Televisions Arts and Sciences inducted her into its Silver Circle. It's one of the organization's most prestigious honors for which only a few candidates are selected each year.

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