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Cancer doesn't slow Knight

June 22, 2008|From the Associated Press

LUBBOCK, Texas -- True to her name, Patience Knight showed poise when things were good -- and bad.

Two years ago, the Texas Tech thrower's life was going smoothly. She was a 19-year-old freshman who earned straight As and had qualified for a national meet.

Maybe she wouldn't have predicted cancer scares for herself and her dad, or that her treatment would be complicated when a piece of tubing infiltrated her heart, but the aspiring Olympian found herself bracing for bad news before it came.

"When life gets real good and things are going too smoothly, you're like, 'Something's about to happen,' " Knight said recently. "I don't know how to explain it to you. It was weird."

In June 2006 sharp pains began to shoot across her chest and back on her right side. The discomfort was most severe when she inhaled, but only when she was lying down to sleep.

Some nights she could only doze, sitting up in front of a TV to avoid the pain.

Believing her throwing motion had caused an injury, Knight and Tech trainers worked to treat and rehab her shoulder area. But the pain persisted and after six months Knight grew concerned.

A bone scan was negative, but three weeks later an MRI showed a fist-sized mass beneath her sternum near her heart. A biopsy followed but Knight wasn't too worried.

The results, she believed, would reveal another benign neurofibroma like the one that had been removed from her when she was 11.

"That's what I assumed that [the doctor] would tell me, so I was pretty shocked when he told me it was cancer," Knight said. "It took me a second to kind of take it in."

In that instant, Knight made a decision -- one grounded by her Christian faith and upbringing in a family steeped in spirituality.

"I thought this would be my testimony because I haven't really had a bunch of big stuff like this happen to me before," Knight said of learning that she had Hodgkin's lymphoma. "That's just kind of how I thought about the whole situation."

Dr. Donald Quick, her oncologist, said diagnosing the disease in its earliest stage gave Knight a good shot at beating it. The survival rate was 97 percent.

At first she and her coaches thought she would have to redshirt the spring 2007 season. But as she began her treatments -- 12 rounds of chemo and 20 of radiation -- Knight craved a semblance of normalcy. The side effects of the chemo were more than she could handle alone.

She was elated when doctors gave her the OK to continue training and competing.

"If I had just been sitting in my dorm room the whole time that would have driven me crazy, so it was a nice escape to get out here and think about something else," Knight said. "And being around my teammates really helped uplift my spirits."

On Sunday, Knight will accept an individual honor spotlighting her spirit and fortitude. The Honda Inspiration Award recognizes an athlete who overcomes adversity to excel at her sport, and Knight will be saluted at the Collegiate Women Sports Awards ceremony in New York.

Earlier this month, the wildlife management major was honored as a 2008 Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Award winner.

Knight's family also had its faith tested. Within eight weeks of her diagnosis, her father learned he had a slow-growing malignant tumor in his small intestine.

"During that time it was rather emotional, it was very stressful," said Knight's mother, Angela. "We grew a lot as a family."

It took some time for Knight to find her form again after beginning chemo, but she rebounded well enough to qualify for the NCAA meet in June 2007. At the meet in California, she wasn't feeling well one morning while the Tech team ate breakfast. She decided to not tell anyone.

"I guess I'm stubborn," she said.

The problem, doctors discovered after she returned home from a 27th-place finish, was that a piece of tubing used to feed the chemo drugs into her chest near the tumor had been snipped off by the scissor-like movement of her collarbone over her rib cage.

That piece of tubing -- about 3 inches long -- had lodged inside her heart.

To remove the tubing, Knight was slightly sedated for a procedure similar to an angioplasty. Doctors went through her femoral artery and guided the tubing out of the small incision they'd made to access the artery.

"It's really funny to look back on because I just had gone in for a regular chemo treatment," Knight said.

As of February she was cancer free, though she will need checkups throughout her life to ensure it doesn't return. Her father has also overcome his cancer.

Quick, impressed with Knight's poise and maturity from the moment she walked in his office, had even higher regard after he watched her undergo the chemo and radiation treatments.

"I can't say we had fun doing this, but this was one of the easiest treatments with someone with Hodgkins," he said. "You couldn't hit this woman with a hammer and hurt her. She never complained."

And she never stops pushing to improve.

In July, Knight's quest for a berth in the Beijing Games will take her to Oregon for the U.S. Olympic track and field trials. This month, she finished fifth at the NCAA outdoor meet with a throw of 56 feet, 7 1/2 inches.

In the 2008 season, she won three indoor and four outdoor events in the shot, including both Big 12 meets.

Wes Kittley, Tech's track coach, said Knight's example of persistence and perseverance helped make the whole team better. She's got a first name that will take her far no matter what field she chooses.

"She's got the perfect name, no doubt about it," he said. "She took it all in stride the whole time. She's just an inspiration to anyone that knows her."

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