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Kylie McConville

Mom Defeats Deadly Brain Cancer And Gets The Gift Of A Lifetime

PUBLISHED ON 01/07/2013

Something amazing has happened today y'all. (And no, I'm not talking about the fact that it's Blue Ivy's birthday, though that's pretty wonderful, too.) No, today, there was a real miracle. For a mama, her baby, and her supportive husband.

At the age of 24, Heather Knies was give the worst news ever: She had two —  not one, _ two _ — brain tumors , one of the a Grade 4 Glioblastoma, the same type of cancer that that killed Senator Edward Kennedy in 2010.

It all started in 2005, after Heather had started a new job and was driving home from work. "Suddenly, I didn't understand what the dashed white line meant in the road," she remembers. "I had been driving since I was 15, so I started panicking and called my Mom." It was her first tumor symptom, rearing its ugly head.

Following the incident, her boss, a dermatologist, insisted she see a specialist, and an MRI showed a low-grade tumor that was pressing on the visual reception cord in her brain. Heather recalls, "I had just moved to Phoenix from Missouri. I was just out of college and felt like I had the whole world waiting there for me."

So, they scheduled a surgery and she enrolled in a drug trial for an oral chemotherapy at Duke University, undergoing MRIs every three months. Doctors insisted she go and live her life. Less than a full year later, one the scans showed what they all feared: tumor growth. An aggressive Stage 4 Glioblastoma was sitting on top of three major portions of her brain.

When faced with a decision, Knies opted for quality, not quantity, asked her doctor to debulk the tumor instead of trying to remove it in its entirety, which would have rendered her left side paralyzed. The surgery would only giver her six months to live, a number that infuriated Knies more than anyone. She said, "For whatever reason, because of being an athlete or just being mad, I wanted to defy the medical world and show that no one is a statistic. I was immediately defiant. I never once thought it would be the death of me." On Friday, April 13, 2007, she went into surgery. "Friday the 13th will never scare me again," she said.

Followed by heavy doses of chemotherapy and radiation, there is only a hole where the tumor once reigned.

And in 2010, Heather met Joe Knies, an engineer 22 years her senior. They were married in October and worried that they would not be able to conceive, since her aggressive chemotherapy treatments could have potentially damaged her eggs.

After undergoing in-vitro fertilization via a surrogate, they got the good news they had prayed for: Heather and Joe would be parents in 9 months. They would be parents to a baby girl.

"Every morning I wake up and thank God that I can feel my 10 fingers and toes and have a loving daughter and husband," Heather admits. "There have been so many miracles. One after another, as my dad said, so many angels must be sitting on my shoulders."

Her daughter, Zoe, 7 months, just celebrated her first Christmas with her mom and dad. Doctors still struggle with how to define Heather's breakthrough. Her doctor, Dr. Robert Spetzler, says of the cancer, "It's not unheard of that that a few survive — it's a bell curve and there are outliers. 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."

Even though her doctor tries to make scientific sense of her breakthrough, Heather says she has a few reasons of her own as to why she's survived: "One, being God had a plan for me. 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. People believe that when they get cancer, it will kill them. But I never once thought that."

Here's to Heather, her resilient and positive outlook, her beautiful baby girl and her supportive husband!

*Note: the photo shown is not of the Knies family.

What would you say to this mom if you could?

PHOTO: Veer / The Bump