Madison Winn was so focused on her school work, she didn’t notice when the large group of people entered her study hall class.
Along with Winn’s family, several women from Mothers and Daughters Against Cancer surprised the Lambert High School senior Wednesday with flowers, kind words and a scholarship to help her get started in a few months at college.
“Young Harris is pretty darn expensive and this helps a lot,” Winn said.
A two-year brain cancer survivor, Winn was the third student to receive the organization’s scholarship.
“The scholarship is one of the things that we do and it goes with our mission,” said Kim Ragland, organization member. “We want to create young women that are activists in the community.
"This is a way to honor young women who survived cancer and are going to college to further their education.”
Winn said she was excited for the chance to be a voice for the cause.
“I used to be really shy and scared of it, public speaking, but I just feel like I can give something to people who just don’t know about cancer,” she said. “I give lots of speeches.
"I’ve spoken at Emory [University], I’ve spoken at middle schools, my old high school, Wesleyan, a bunch of times. I really like it.”
Now 19, Winn is graduating a year behind schedule after spending more than 200 days dealing with several surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Her mother, Susan, said the journey has been bittersweet.
“A couple of years ago, we weren’t even sure she would pull through ... let alone graduate from high school and have plans to move away and go to college. So this is really just beyond words,” she said.
“Five years ago, I thought she’d already have been in college, studying to be a nurse. But her life is now down a much different path, and now it’s our new normal. I truly believe that all life experiences contribute to who you are meant to be.”
Instead of nursing, Winn said she hopes to become a child life specialist or a teacher.
“I know I want to work with children,” she said.
When Winn was diagnosed in 2007, the two women were shocked. The family, which includes father Phil, older brother Connor and younger sister Kenzie, was active and healthy, with no history of cancer.
“I was totally ignorant to cancer," she said. "I thought just old people had it, but it can happen to anyone."
Susan Winn said the experience has brought her closer to her daughter. It’s why she is so excited to be part of Mothers and Daughters Against Cancer.
“We are very much a team now and [the organization] couldn’t be more fitting. It’s a great cause with a big need,” she said. “I have learned so much about cancer and just the lack of research and the lack of funds and the importance of raising awareness.
“And it’s great ... that Madison tries to become a beacon of hope for people and inspire others, because it’s not a death sentence. You can survive.”