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Local teacher ‘a walking miracle’

BRADENTON

Teacher and kindergartners danced in a circle Monday as the boom box played in Room 047 at Bashaw Elementary School.

They clapped. They stomped. They laughed.

“Join hands, circle to your left ... ” went the song.

“Which way are we going now?” Dawn Williams-Johnson asked 17 giddy 5- and 6-year-olds.

It was more than just a daily class exercise, but an affirmation of life.

The teacher’s life.

“I am a walking miracle,” said Williams-Johnson, 46.

She is a cancer survivor.

Stage two pancreatic cancer, to be exact.

After being stricken a year ago, undergoing surgery in March and enduring chemo through the early fall, Williams-Johnson got a clean bill of health after her final blood test in November.

It was an outcome many people hoped for and prayed for.

“The big thing was the power of prayer, keeping friends and family close,” said Williams-Johnson, a single mom. “Every time I go to the doctor’s office, they’re like, ‘Girl, I did not know you were going to make it.’ ”

That faith was tested during an operation she was not expected to survive.

“I gave her to the Lord,” said her mother, Barbara Williams, in Lake Oconee, Ga. “I remember looking at her on Christmas Eve when we were together with friends, she was laughing, so full of life. I broke down. She really is a miracle.”

Williams-Johnson’s army of supporters held fundraisers and made hospital visits.

Jay Butler was among them.

“She never felt sorry for herself,” he said. “I never saw her down. She’s tough. Others might’ve given up the fight.”

Bashaw’s tight-knit faculty pitched in, too, covering her class during her medical leave.

Williams-Johnson was like family to Principal Minnie King, who babysat her.

“It broke my heart because she’s like one of my kids,” King said. “We were all pulling for her. I’m ecstatic she’s doing so well.”

Besides faith, family and friends, also bolstering Williams-Johnson were the kindergartners she’s taught during most of her 17 years in the classroom.

Their life force sustained her.

“I had to be there for them,” she said. “We do that move-around time usually at the beginning of the day, and it was the best thing for me. I got up off the couch, had to get dressed and I had someplace I had to be.

“We’d start the day dancing and singing and it would just set the tone the whole day. It was like it (cancer) never happened. I was tired, I’d get winded, but trying to keep up with them was probably the best rehabilitation.

“Every day when I’m dancing with them, it’s amazing. I’m so thankful I’m back into my life.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.

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