KING, NC -- Marylou Creal doesn't miss much school and she has for 26 years.
"One of my earliest memories of before maybe four years old is setting up the stuffed animals – I never played with Barbies – lining up the stuffed animals and I would have school," Creal said.
Creal tried other jobs but always came back to teaching. She took a job at Meadowbrook Academy in Stokes County in 2010. After seven years of teaching at the alternative school and nearing the end of her teaching career she got some unexpected news.
"In October just out of the blue with no symptoms I was diagnosed with Stage 2 cervical cancer and knowing with my personality I did not sit there and go, 'woe is me,' I really believed that this was my chance to be an example not just to my students but to others," Creal said.
Creal went to chemotherapy, radiation and back to chemotherapy every day after school. But every morning she was back in the classroom ready to teach.
"It made me upset because I felt she didn't deserve that," Creal's student, Macaela Douglas, said.
Another student, Shannon O’Donnell, said, "She would come to school every day just to teach us kids because she cares so much about us. Because some people didn't care about us but she thought we deserved the best."
She said she never even thought about stopping because her students needed her.
"I do have a responsibility no matter what cards I'm dealt I have to play the best hand I got," she said. "And I had the choice to be a victim or I could be a survivor and… I'm a fighter."
This year Meadowbrook Academy named Creal Teacher of the Year. It’s a title, like her diagnosis, she doesn't accept.
"It should have been faculty of the year because I felt that's what it should be. If it weren't for my administration and my coworkers and my school family – what they did to support me – I never had to worry," Creal said.