Every year the students and staff at Dunbar Elementary School focus on breast cancer awareness month with guest speakers, a fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen organization and a balloon release. This year, for the first time, their “Paint Us Pink” campaign was dedicated to an inspiration in their very own office. Administrative secretary Dawn Jeffares-McWilliams is undergoing chemotherapy in her third battle against breast cancer. She had no idea that all the preparation for this month’s recognition was in her honor.
“She’s just an inspiration to us… we love her and we want her to know, she is a big encouragement to us,” said Dunbar Principal Karen Brown-Collier, who is also a breast cancer survivor.
Colleagues surprised Jeffares-McWilliams on Wednesday with an oversized breast cancer awareness ribbon, breakfast, flowers and $200. Principal Brown-Collier hopes the money helps offset travel costs to Newnan for treatment. Despite the exhausting chemotherapy treatment every three weeks, Principal Brown-Collier said Jeffares-McWilliams has continued to work and hasn’t missed a beat.
“On bad days, they always give words of encouragement. They can tell when I’m not feeling well, but I’m here,” said Jeffares-McWillia
Jeffares-McWilliams was first diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2005. She was 32 years old. After chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, she was clear until a reoccurrence in 2008. A PET scan later showed improvement until this most recent reoccurrence.
“I have good and bad days, but mostly good. I’m off the most toxic drugs right now as of nine weeks ago,” explained Jeffares-McWilliams.
Principal Brown-Collier understands the challenge. She credits early detection and faithful mammograms for doctors’ ability to catch her breast cancer in 2009. She marked a milestone in her recovery in August, five years cancer-free.
Jeffares-McWilliams is grateful for the support and understanding of all her colleagues at Dunbar Elementary, “They’re just like family, a huge extended family.”
Jeffares-McWilliams has worked at Dunbar Elementary School eight years. Prior to that, she served as a parent liaison at Parkside Elementary and as a cafeteria volunteer at Anne E. West Elementary, the school she and her husband, Thomas, both attended. She has three daughters: Catherine, Samantha and Chastity, two of which graduated from Atlanta Public Schools.