Shannon’s legacy inspires state-wide hope

The simple dream of a small-town girl, diagnosed with cancer, has made a big impact on the lives of other hospital-bound year-12 students.

Remembered: Wagga High School's acting-head teacher of well-being Katrina Smith and head history teacher Leonie Atkinson said their student's legacy would live on.

Remembered: Wagga High School's acting-head teacher of well-being Katrina Smith and head history teacher Leonie Atkinson said their student's legacy would live on.

Shannon McKnight was in her final year of study at Wagga High School when tragedy struck. The 17-year-old was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2014. 

Despite her gruelling treatment regime, Shannon was determined to look ahead to a life after her illness. 

That life included a degree and a career. 

Shannon’s goal was to complete her Higher School Certificate, but if not for the fight of her teachers, Prince of Wales Hospital staff and her mother, it would have been unattainable. 

After months of negotiation, the former A-grade student received her HSC results and an ATAR in the 80s, based on evidence of her previous results.

She was also able to graduate alongside her peers that year – a moment that was described as heartwarming and beautiful – and was accepted into university to study teaching. 

Shannon died in 2016, following her harrowing two-year battle, but her legacy has lived on, with her story inspiring a number of changes at Prince of Wales Hospital.

The Sydney hospital’s clinical nurse consultant, Cath O’Dwyer said Shannon, like others her age, was treated in an adult ward, away from the teachers and services at the children’s hospital school.

She said it was easy for some to slip through the cracks. 

“Shannon had full access to the hospital school’s services and teachers though, which wasn’t always the case,” Ms O’Dwyer said.

“Every single patient doing their HSC and a uni degree now benefits from all the services available to give them that support.”

She said schools across NSW could now be guided through the unfamiliar processes, following the launch of the Back on Track initiative and Ronald McDonald Learning Program. 

“We’ve done it all for the schools,” Ms O’Dwer said. “It’s made a huge difference … we have the most amount of young people going through their HSC this year.”

It is a move that has touched the hearts of Shannon’s teachers at Wagga High School. 

None more so than her mentor, Leonie Atkinson. 

Ms Atkinson had worked closely with Shannon and her family, helping in the push for her HSC results, while the Board of Studies negotiated with the hospital.   

“We rallied and did everything we could to help because the expectation was that she would live,” Ms Atkinson said.

“It was important for her to to have that hope.” 

She said thanks to Shannon’s legacy, others could now have that hope too.