Heather Knies was driving home from work one day when suddenly, she couldn’t remember what the white dashes painted in the middle of the road meant. She had been driving since she was 15, she could see the dotted line that separated the two lanes of traffic, but for some reason her 24-year-old brain couldn’t tell her what those lines were there for.
“Suddenly, I didn’t understand what the dashed white line meant in the road,” said Knies of the 2005 experience. “I had been driving since I was 15, so I started panicking and called my Mom. She asked, ‘Did you take something?’ ”
Knies could see, but couldn’t understand what she was seeing.
At 24-year-old, the recent college graduate was diagnosed with a brain tumor: A grade 4 gioblastoma, to be exact. The same cancer that killed Senator Edward Kennedy in 2010.
She was given six months to live.
Six years later, Knies is now 32-years-old, and has a husband and 7-month-old daughter to witness her triumph over the deadly disease.
While researchers are currently working on a vaccine to fight off this deadly type of brain cancer, Knies was treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. After witnessing her medical journey, her doctors at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Arizona cannot explain her unique success.
Knies’ recent MRI showed only a hole where the cancer used to be. She is healthy, with no neurological side effects from her cancer or treatments.
Dr. Robert Spetzler, the director of the Barrow Neurological Institute, told ABC News that, while cancers vary from patient to patient, in his 35 years as a neurosurgeon in the United States, he has “never seen such a triumph against a stage 4 glioblastoma.”
“It’s one of the most malignant tumors there is,” Spetzler, Knies’ surgeon, said. “Invariably it will come back and pop up somewhere else in the brain and it’s uniformly fatal.”
“It’s not unheard of that that a few survive — it’s a bell curve and there are outliers,” he added. “But in her case, not only has she survived, but she is perfectly normal and there is absolutely no evidence of a tumor on her MRI scan.”
Knies believes she knows why her story has a happy ending.
“One, being God had a plan for me,” said Knies. “I also had a great team of doctors and wonderful family and friends with a positive attitude.”
“The mind is so much more powerful than anyone can imagine,” she told ABC News. “People believe that when they get cancer, it will kill them. But I never once thought that.”
In fact, when she was given her diagnosis and told she had six months to live, Knies got mad.
“For whatever reason, because of being an athlete or just being mad, I wanted to defy him and the medical world and show that no one is a statistic,” Knies said of her original diagnosis. “I was immediately defiant. I never once thought it would be the death of me.”
In 2010, Knies met Joe, now 54, an engineer 22 years her senior. She was still undergoing chemotherapy when the couple married in October of that year.
“It didn’t even faze him, and it blew me away,” she said of her husband’s reaction to her health. “He made a good point — we can all die in a car crash tomorrow.”
The couple wanted children, but were concerned, since aggressive treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can leave men and women infertile.
“It was almost as scary for me as hearing about the cancer,” Knies notes of the news.
With her oncologist’s support, Heather and Joe conceived via in vetro fertilization, and a surrogate carried their baby girl, Zoe, to term.
“Every morning I wake up and thank God that I can feel my 10 fingers and toes and have a loving daughter and husband,” said Knies of her incredible story of triumph. “There have been so many miracles. One after another, as my dad said, so many angels must be sitting on my shoulders.”