MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For this week’s Excellent Educator, we had to get staff other than the principal in on the surprise. That’s because the award went to the principal.

Principal Melissa Zahn holds the reins at Sweeney Elementary in Shakopee, but she is also currently battling stage four breast cancer.

The 31-year-old’s courage, strength and infectious positive outlook is what makes her this week’s Excellent Educator.

“I love the part that I get to be a part of all 700 kids here at Sweeney,” she said. “The other awesome part is I get to impact the teachers and the day, and if things are going great, that makes me feel good; and if they’re not, then I feel like I have an opportunity to make things better.”

She’s proven she’s not afraid to face a challenge.

“At 27, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and at that time it was stage one, I went through chemotherapy, went through a double mastectomy and we thought we were free and then two years later I went through a re-check and they did a scan and found it to be stage four,” Zahn said. “I actually feel really good, the cancer is still there, it’s in the liver, but it has not affected my daily life. I am still able to work and do all the things I want to do.”

Her biggest encouragers just might be the smaller people in her life, the students at Sweeney Elementary.

Last year during breast cancer awareness month, the kids celebrated “Mrs. Zahn Day.” They raised money for breast cancer and took a picture in the shape of the awareness ribbon with their principal in the center of it all.

“They are little champions for me and encouraging me to fight on,” she said.

The students and the staff watch Zahn’s energy in awe.

“It’s amazing, she is a gift to all of us here and to our community. and she inspires other people to go above and beyond what they might typically do,” said assistant principal John Mahal.

And she’s not letting cancer keep her from her dreams outside of school.

“It’s changed my plans for my life, my husband and I wanted to have kids so we have one on the way through a gestational carrier,” she said.

With the help of a surrogate, Zahn will soon have new title, mom.

A new life, gives Zahn new hope, which helps her be the inspiration she is today for the students at Sweeney.

“I feel you just have to stay positive,” she said. “You can’t think about the negative…just have to live each day as it is and anything can happen to anyone at any moment in time, so you have to live for each day.”

Kim Johnson


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