PHOENIX - Heather Knies took the news of Sen. John McCain's cancer diagnosis hard.
“I was heartbroken but there was one thing I did think about: If anybody can beat this, it’s him. Look what he’s already been through. He’s a survivor already,” said Knies.
Knies is a two-time brain cancer survivor herself.
“I was leaving work one day and suddenly couldn't understand what the dash yellow line (meant on the road) versus white line," she said. I was completely confused."
She had a Stage II brain tumor. Then a year later after most of the tumor was removed, it came back in the form of glioblastoma multiforme -- the same diagnosis McCain just received.
“When it came back, it was surgery, then the radiation," she said. "So, I was actually on chemo for three years."
Ten years later, Heather is -- at the moment -- cancer-free, considered a medical miracle. She says along with the treatment she received at the Barrow Neurological Institute, her strong faith in God and family support helped pull her through.
“A positive attitude (was key in recovery)," she said. "I never once thought this thing was going to kill me. I was defiant from the start."
Dr. Joseph Zabramski, a neurosurgeon at the Barrow Neurological Institute, says the average survival rate for patients is about 16 months, but he says that’s more of a bell curve number. Some go sooner while others live past the average. Zabramski has patients who are five years disease-free.
Zabramski says patients are getting diagnosed earlier and there is a greater understanding of how to treat the disease. He did not treat Heather Knies but says her success helps give others hope.
“It tells us if we pick the right treatments. If we can get them at the right time, we can cure a lot of these patients,” said Zabramski.
There is no guarantee Knies’ brain cancer won't return. Every three months, she gets an MRI scan just to be safe. Grateful for every day she gets, her advice to McCain and other patients battling glioblastoma is to have a positive attitude.
“You can be a miracle too. You never know," she said. "You've got to go after it. You've got to believe it can be beaten."
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