SHE never knew her father and wasn't allowed to meet her own indigenous elders, so being named NAIDOC Elder of the Year has a special meaning for Gladstone woman Cynthia Williams.
"I'm stoked; honoured. I did not have any inclination that it was going to happen. Even though people kept saying 'you gotta come to the ball', I thought I won't make it," said Mrs Williams, who is battling liver cancer after having defeated breast cancer in 2012.
Mrs Williams and her husband Cedric admit there have been some rough times over the past few years, as her illness has become more serious.
"Put it this way...just be positive, and be strong. The people behind you, your family, your friends, will always be there," she said.
If she manages to defeat the cancer again, she said she would spend more time with her grandchildren.
Mrs Williams grew up in Brisbane with her mother, a non-indigenous woman, and knew nothing of her father, who was a Torres Strait Islander man.
It was not until she spent time with her mother-in-law, and with Torres Strait Islander leaders in Gladstone, that she realised the strength of her own knowledge, Mrs Williams said.
"I had a beautiful mother-in-law," she said.
"I couldn't have wished for anything better. She taught me things on the Aboriginal side. She was a beautiful person."
Mrs Williams went on to become an indigenous teacher aide at Gladstone South State School, where she spent 21 years helping generations of children achieve their goals.
"I was also the first lollipop lady at South," she said with a laugh.
"I'm honoured to see where these young people are today, like Matthew Cook, Carly Cook (and many others).
Mr Williams said his wife showed through her work that compassion crossed all cultures.
"By the time she'd finished at the school, she was teaching the grandchildren (of her first students)," Mr Williams said.
Mrs Williams said she felt she had fulfilled a promise she made to members of the community.
"We had a parade at the school one day," she said.
"Des (a parent) said to me: sister girl, I want you to make sure my children carry on. My grandchildren, he said, don't you ever let them drop out of school. And ah, let them make their goal. And I did that for him."
The NAIDOC 2014 Elder of the Year award was presented at Gladstone's NAIDOC Ball on Friday.
Messages of support and celebration flooded in on Facebook for Mrs Williams as the award was announced.