DUNEDIN — Last week, Briana Foley conducted the spring concert at Garrison-Jones Elementary.
Her friends described how happy she was directing the fourth- and fifth-grade choruses and the string orchestra.
Teaching still brings joy to Foley, a music instructor at the elementary school for 19 years, despite the cancer in her brain, liver and spots on her bones.
"Nothing holds her down," said Claire Hart, a physical education teacher at Garrison-Jones.
Her closest friends, who call themselves her "peeps" and dance with her to I Will Survive in the mornings, are honoring her with a benefit dinner and silent auction Thursday.
Past students will perform. Organizers hope to raise more than $10,000 for her and her family, which includes her husband, Greg Foley, who was recently treated for prostate cancer and their daughter, Liz Foley, 18, a Florida State University-bound senior at Palm Harbor University High School.
"Two ill parents, it's hard," Briana Foley said. "I just want her to have somebody."
Foley was diagnosed with the most advanced stage of breast cancer six years ago. Doctors gave her a year to live.
"You didn't bring me into this world, you're not taking me out of this world," she told the cancer.
She was determined to see her daughter graduate from high school.
After undergoing chemotherapy and alternative treatments, Foley's cancer was gone. It came back last year with two tumors in her brain. One was surgically removed, the other is shrinking with treatment.
Liz will graduate June 4.
Now Foley's goal is to see her daughter graduate from college.
"I believe I can do it again," she said. "I have great faith.
Foley, who will only reveal that her age is "under 50," stays active despite the cancer. She tries to do as much yoga as she can each morning and just completed the last of her national board certification exams. She says she wakes up filled with gratitude each morning and calls being a music teacher a vocation, not a job.
Next week, she'll be recognized as the Pinellas County Music Educator of the Year.
Lately, the fifth-graders have been writing about their time at Garrison-Jones Elementary. Almost every one of them have mentioned Mrs. Foley's music class.
Tamara El-Khoury can be reached at (727)445-4181 or firstname.lastname@example.org.