#TeamDawn: Elementary school supports staff member with breast cancer

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 22, 2016

By Rebecca Rider

ROCKWELL — Everyone at Rockwell Elementary knows Dawn Hathcock. For the past 16 years, she’s been greeting parents and students with a smile as they walk through the front doors. Before that, Hathcock, 49, was a substitute teacher at the school for nearly 13 years — she even subbed for Principal Jennifer Warden, when she was just a teacher.

For Hathcock, the school is home, its staff is family and she views the school’s several hundred students as her own.

“Once they come in the door, they’re mine,” she said.

She has a faith in the school that has not been in vain — when Hathcock was diagnosed with breast cancer in August, it rallied around her. While she didn’t advertise her diagnosis, saying she didn’t want to worry the students, in a place as small as Rockwell, word gets around.

“I didn’t want my kids to know there was anything different. I’m fine,” she said.

But the staff were there to support her. Warden said that on Hathcock’s first day of chemo, the staff dressed in pink and snapped funny photos to send her.

And when the Rockwell Elementary had a “Pink Out” celebration Wednesday, staff and students dedicated the day to her, flooding social media with photos tagged “#teamDawn.”

Students and teachers paid to be able to wear pink to school Wednesday, with all funds going to the King of Court fundraiser, to be held Oct. 26, which will in turn donate funds to Novant Health Rowan.

But they also had a special surprise in store.

Warden said the Chair of the school’s Social Climate Committee saw a social media post about a human breast cancer ribbon, and shared it with her.

“I think we could do this for Dawn,” she told Warden.

The Pink Out was already planned, and the two thought the ribbon would fit perfectly into their plans. Warden secretly alerted the staff and sent fliers home with students. The announcement encouraged students to wear pink in honor of “Mrs. Dawn.”

“They were so excited to wear pink for her,” Warden said.

Hathcock didn’t know about the event until five minutes before, when Warden came to talk to her and said,

“Don’t get mad.”

The entire student body met Hathcock on the lawn and lined up in the shape of a ribbon. Hathcock said she was “overwhelmed.” With the help of a ladder truck from the Rockwell City Fire Department, they snapped a picture.

“There was so much pink in this building,” Warden said. “It was amazing . . . and it was all for Dawn.”

While the school used the moment to honor Hathcock, for her, it was about everyone who has ever struggled with the disease.

“Everybody knows somebody,” she said.

Whether it’s breast cancer, or another form of cancer, it’s something that has touched the lives of many students at Rockwell Elementary. And while she didn’t want the students to worry about her, she said that she also wants them to know that when someone gets cancer, it can be OK.

“She wants the kids to be supported and not scared,” Warden said.

Since then, students have dropped by the office to give Hathcock flowers, cards and buttons. Some stop to take a photo with her. Hathcock is currently in the middle of chemotherapy treatments — she has four left, but the worst of it is past her, now.

“I haven’t been sick,” she said of the treatment. “I’ve just been tired.”

Hathcock said she’s made it this far with a lot of prayer, and knows that many others have it much worse than she does. While Hathcock likes to keep out of the spotlight, performing small forms of support like bracelets, Warden said the school plans to hang a photo of the human ribbon in the office, so that when Hathcock’s journey is over, she can remember how everyone pulled together.

“This is my saving grace,” Hathcock said of the school. “This is where I need to be.”

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.