Fanchon Knight

Attorney David Kabat often quotes Jimmy Valvano, coach of the North Carolina State Wolf Pack, talking about his battle with cancer: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” The dedicated care of the late Fanchon Knight, RN, a Loyola oncology nurse, helped Mr. Kabat, and many other Loyola cancer patients like him, accept that challenge. Although Ms. Knight herself succumbed to a metastatic melanoma in 2005, the legacy of her caring ministry clearly lives on in Mr. Kabat and in every one of the lives she touched. Recently, her parents, Lester and Virginia Knight, had the bittersweet pleasure of seeing the first Fanchon Knight Nurse of the Year Award presented at Loyola’s Nursing Excellence Awards ceremony. Hailing from Danville, Ill, but longtime residents of East Peoria, Mr. and Mrs. Knight are active and energetic grandparents who recently celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary. The endowment they created in their daughter’s memory will fund, in perpetuity, a stipend that the awardee will use for educational purposes.

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According to Mr. and Mrs. Knight, nursing is the only career their daughter ever wanted, and it is their goal to support others who have chosen this profession. They continue to contribute to the endowment and encourage friends and family to do so as well. In May, many of those friends and family gathered in Loyola’s Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center (CBCC) to share memories and to dedicate a conference room named in Fanchon Knight’s memory.

“I gave my own mother some grey hair,” said Mrs. Knight, “but Fanchie was the perfect daughter. Even as a child, I could depend on her for anything.” From grammar school on, she was dedicated to her schoolwork, added Mr. Knight, and, though she had to work harder than her brother, to whom study came easier, she always got excellent grades. Highly inquisitive and motivated,  dedicated to helping people, she attended Peoria’s Spalding Institute/Academy of Our Lady and went on to graduate from Northern Illinois University in 1975 with her BSN in Nursing.  Ms. Knight spent most of her nursing career at Loyola University Medical Center, first as a neurology nurse and later working exclusively with oncology patients. In that time, she developed a reputation for her extraordinary dedication and generosity to patients, her meticulous ways, and her strong faith. “Fanchon was my expectation of what a nurse should be,” said Pam Rivet, a retired nurse who battled squamous cell carcinoma with her help. “She was knowledgeable, intelligent, patient and kind, but no-nonsense. ‘I’m strong and you can count on me,’ was always the sense you got from her. Fanchon made you feel  brave because you always felt like she had your back.”.

Mr. Kabat, on the other hand, found in this nurse something he hadn’t expected to encounter. “I came here [to Loyola] a real skeptic of medical care,” he said, in a voice still slightly raspy from his throat cancer surgery nine years ago. “But Fanchon was extremely caring, compassionate and intuitive. She knew what fears families had and she could reassure caregivers. She really became the quarterback of our care.” Ms. Knight’s colleague at the CBCC, Kathleen Bettis, RN, saw her fierce dedication to patients even in the face of her own cancer diagnosis, recalling that “She could have been angry or depressed, but instead her diagnosis empowered her to walk in her patients’ shoes and work that much harder to ease the burdens they faced.” Ms. Rivet characterizes this willingness to work closely with patients and their families, opening herself up to their pain, as the willingness on Fanchon’s part to be vulnerable, to always see the person in the diagnosis, rather than the other way around. Her dad says simply, “She had love built into her heart from God and she shared it. She loved helping people.” For more information about supporting the Fanchon Knight endowment at Loyola or creating an endowment in another area, contact the Office of Development at (708) 216-3201 or development@lumc.edu.

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Portrait of a Winner