Cancer Patient Stories

Stories of hope and healing from the Knight Cancer Institute

Cancer is a life-altering diagnosis. But it’s usually written about in a cold, impersonal way. To restore the balance, we've collected some stories about our patients. From the first diagnosis to the last round of treatment, they show us what cancer feels like from the inside. They told their stories in the hope of helping other patients and families at any stage of illness. We are honored to share these snapshots of real people contending with the real challenges of cancer. If you have a story to share, please get in touch with us at


A woman is fishing on a verdant riverbank. She casts the rod with outstretched hand. The scene is peaceful and calm.

‘You have to move forward’

After she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, Shonna Oliver put her trust in two people: her husband and her doctor.


cancer survival story Brian Matekovich

‘I can walk again’

A tumor the size of a cabbage was destroying his knee. Then Brian Matekovich heard of a new type of therapy.

Targeted therapy

Cancer survival story Judy Orem

Out of options — until she tried Gleevec

Judy Orem was desperate. Chemo wasn’t working any more. Then she found a ray of hope.

New therapy

Cancer survival story Diana Dowd

In it for the long haul

Diana Dowd joined a clinical trial to test a new therapy for a rare cancer. She helped change the way the condition is treated.

Prostate cancer

Cancer survival story David Seidl

Make the most of your time

It was an experimental treatment. David Seidl didn’t hesitate.

Clinical trials

cancer survival story Susan Brock

Weathering the storm

How do you survive cancer in the face of a pandemic? Susan Brock focused on getting three things done every day.

Breast cancer

Cancer survival story Emily Hauser

Surviving cancer — twice

Emily Hauser’s journey began when her daughter bumped against her chest. She felt a strange pain.

Clinical trials

A young man stands against a brick wall. He looks at the camera with a confident gaze.

The cancer kept coming back

Battling aggressive bone cancer, Derek Fadness faced a choice. Should he take a chance on a new type of treatment?

Clinical trials

Cancer survivor stories Leola Kalamau

A van and a mammogram

The exam took Leola Kalamau 15 minutes. It may have saved her life.

Breast cancer

cancer survival story Brenna Lindsley

‘But I eat blueberries… I can’t have cancer’

Strong. Independent. Could Brenna Lindsley stay that way despite a terrifying diagnosis?

Bile duct cancer

Cancer survival story Lynn Story

Rare tumor, remarkable person

The surgeons could take out her cancer. But how would they stitch her back together?

Breast cancer

cancer survival story Jennifer Severance

Welcome to the whirlwind

As a single mom, facing the most aggressive type of breast cancer, Jennifer Severance needed a plan. 

New therapy

Cancer survival story Lisa Wooden

Bravery and a backpack

Lisa Wooden got a new type of therapy for her stage IV cancer. Yes, she carries it in a backpack.

Whipple surgery

Dr. Flavio Rocha with patient Anne Matsen.

New hope for pancreatic cancer

Whipple surgery gives pancreatic cancer survivor Anne Matsen precious time to spend with her grandchildren.


A teenage boy stands with his arms crossed. He is smiling at the camera in a playful, confident pose.

Always strong

Dario Villaseñor Valdivia survived leukemia thanks to a bone marrow transplant. His personal motto? Siempre Fuerte — always strong.


Cancer survival story Hai Pham

‘I wanted to give back’

Hai Pham thought his weight loss was due to stress. Until he got a bruise that wouldn’t heal.

Bone marrow transplant

Cancer survival story Matt McCallum

‘I would understand if you walked away’

Distance runner Matt McCallum and his wife Gabi Duarte had just gotten engaged. Were they ready to face this together?

Breast cancer

Cancer survival story Celeste and Zabrina Saenz

An all-woman breast cancer team? Yes!

Celeste Saenz drove 2,000 miles to get treatment at the Knight Cancer Institute. It was worth it.

Breast cancer

Cancer survival story Liberty Barnes

Three dots mark the spot

When Liberty Barnes told her kids she had cancer, her son cried out, “But you’re my mom!


Patient Shanie Mason.

Hug the ones you love

Shanie Mason had stage IV cancer. Would a clinical trial help her?