Doctor William B. Knight from Savannah America, was diagnosed with a Juvenile Pilocytic Astrocytoma just months after his 4th birthday. He had 3 surgeries and 3.5 years of chemotherapy. After going through his own journey he wanted to help others and went on to be a Family Medicine physician.
Doctor William B. Knight’s Pilocytic Astrocytoma Story
When Were You Diagnosed?
I was diagnosed in February 1991 with a pilocytic astrocytoma after many months of daily headaches which were often debilitating. I had 2 brain surgeries after initial diagnosis. The tumor continued to grow and I began chemotherapy.
Unfortunately, I had an anaphylactic allergic reaction to the chemotherapy I needed and it had to be stopped. The tumor continued to grow and a 3rd partial resection was performed. After this surgery I started the chemotherapy that I was allergic to using an experimental desensitization protocol.
This was successful and allowed me to complete a total of 3.5 years of chemo. The protocol was later published in a medical journal and allows patients all over the world to continue life saving chemotherapy that they are allergic to.
Why did you have chemo for a non-cancerous brain tumour?
I had chemo after the 3rd surgery because of the location of the tumor on the center of my brain. With its location any further growth would cause permanent damage from pressure on the surrounding structures. I received carbo platin which was one of the few chemotherapies which would work for a slow growing tumor. Unfortunately 1/3 of patients receiving carbo platin become allergic.
What is the toughest challenge survivors face?
Being diagnosed changes your life forever. As a brain tumor survivor, I think it is difficult for others to understand the challenges that survivors had to go through during their treatment (surgery, chemo, radiation) and that these treatments often have lasting side effects. I have been very lucky in that I have very minimal noticeable side effects. I have learned that everyone reacts differently when they find out you have a history of a cancer diagnosis.
Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
- Never give up!
- Find a medical team that you trust and who are supportive. Never hesitate to get a second opinion.
- Surround yourself with people who support you and your family.
How are you doing now?
I am doing well. I finished chemo in February 1996 and my MRI’s have been stable since.
I was inspired by the doctors who cared for me. I knew that I wanted to be a doctor from an early age and am now practising as a Family Medicine Physician in my hometown of Savannah, Georgia. I use every opportunity I have to educate and encourage people with cancer diagnoses, either in treatment or as survivors. It is important to me to spread awareness as cancer touches everyone’s life at some point- either themselves or through a loved one.
As a Doctor, how many patients have you come across that have/had a brain tumour?
I have a handful of patients with brain tumors (maybe 4-5). And I have many patients with other types of cancer (breast, lung, prostate).
What motivates you?
I was a child when I was diagnosed so I was highly motivated by my mother who was always at my side. As a Christian, I was also a firm believer that God had a plan for my life. Now, I am motivated through my career as a Family Medicine physician who gets to care for people in my hometown.
I feel particularly connected to my patients who may receive a cancer diagnosis and I always want them to know that they can tell me anything that they are dealing with.
Do you have a particular scripture that comes to mind when you deal with difficult situations?
Yes, this verse carried me through my chemo days. I had a calling to be a doctor since I was 10 and this verse got me through treatment and all the years of training.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” – Jeremiah 29:11
Who has inspired you in your life?
The doctors at Duke University Medical Center who cared for me are definitely my heroes. Dr. Henry Friedman (Pediatric Heme/Onc) made me the person I am today. The child life specialists at Duke were another group of people who inspired me while I was receiving chemo.
What is a great gift for a brain tumour patient?
For me, music was a great means of escape and coping with diagnosis/treatment. Another great gift would be audiobooks because I listened to many of these when travelling to and from Duke.
Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know?
Many people do not know about my love of photography. I use it to find the good/joy in life and share it with others. I love nature photography in particular and can often be found outside with a camera in hand usually capturing a sunset or beautiful scenery.
Here are Three Fantastic Charities I support Pediatric Braintumor Foundation, Angels Among Us, Jude Children’s.