Students at Nichols Elementary School gathered outside recently and released pink balloons in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness.

Breast cancer is a disease that has struck very close to home for the students.

First grade teacher Mary Jane Barker, an eight-year survivor of the disease, is called the school's “poster child” for breast cancer awareness.

“Although I've survived breast cancer for eight years, it is still as vivid to me as it was when I first became aware I had it eight years ago,” Barker said. “I was only 30 years old when it was diagnosed at level 4. It is truly a miracle that I have survived.”

Tracy Patton, school secretary, helped organize the event.

“One day I watched as Mrs. Barker walked up to a woman who was going through cancer treatments,” Patton said. “Mrs. Barker said, ‘Hello, my name is Mary Jane. I am an eight-year survivor and I just wanted to give you hope.'

“I knew then that we, as a school, could take that one step more.”

She called Barker, “a perfect example of the courage, strength and hope you must have to fight such a battle.”

The song, “I'm A Survivor” by Reba McIntire was played as eight pink balloons, one for each year Barker has survived the cancer, were released.

Each had a card attached with Barker's photo on it that asked anyone who found the balloon to send a note or call the school and tell them how far the balloon had taken the message of breast cancer awareness.

“My family members - my husband, my daughter, my mother and my sister - attended the program,” Barker said. “They participated in releasing the balloons.

“There wasn't a dry adult eye in the house.”

Following the program, Barker was one of the teachers who oversaw recess.

“I felt like a movie star,” she said of the attention paid her by the children. “One little girl said she was glad I lived so long otherwise she wouldn't have had be for a teacher.”

Barker credits her friends at the school with helping to save her life.

“When I found a lump, they insisted that I go to the doctor something I put off for as long as possible,” she said. “If I had put it off much longer, I wouldn't be here today.”

Barker sees her survival as a gift from God and tries to be “an ambassador of hope.”

“I try to share my survival with those who have cancer,” she said. “I like to let them know that survival is possible.”

In addition to the balloons ceremony, the students at Nichols are helping to spread Breast Cancer Awareness by collecting the pink lids from Yoplait Yogurt Cups until Oct. 31.