SYRACUSE -- It was a pink-out Monday morning for students and faculty at Cook Elementary in Syracuse, with balloons, ribbons and signs -- all pink -- adorning the schools' front entryway, and a pink "carpet" of paper leading up to the front doors. Meanwhile, students teachers and parents donned their best pink attire, flanking the carpet and overflowing into the school hallways to support one of their veteran teachers who is undergoing chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer.
Louise Inderrieden began the school year with her second-grade class in a drastically different way than her previous 20 years. Having spent the summer undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Inderrieden worked the first two weeks of school teaching her class while bald, before taking a nine-week leave of absence for further treatments.
Inderrieden came back to visit her students on Halloween, dressed up as a boxer with a sign saying "I'm winning the fight, Round Six," symbolic of her sixth chemotherapy treatment.
For the next couple of months, Inderrieden gets a brief hiatus from treatments before starting back up in January. Inderrieden's first day back to school was Monday.
When Inderrieden got out of her car, parked in a completely pinked-out spot with signs and more pink "carpet," tears of joy flowed as she saw the crowd. Tears flowed from many others too as they waved and hugged Inderrieden as she passed by.
"I was so overwhelmed because it was the most beautiful thing I've ever experienced, seeing the kids," said Inderrieden. "When you see this kind of support, there is nothing in the world that gives a person more power than the strength of other people. It gives you the energy to believe in yourself and to fight through the hard days."
As her students rushed up to give her hugs, one particular boy was struggling with his emotions. Inderrieden responded with a tight hug, then looked in his eyes and asked if he was doing OK. Then she said, "We can survive this, can't we?"
As he surveyed the sea of pink, Principal Loren Clark said the motto of their school is to have students come and learn, have fun, and take care of one another. "That's exactly what we are teaching our students here, reaching out and taking care of each other," said Clark.
Former students also wanted to also show their support. Fifth-grade Kara Fluckiger and her sister, Megan, in sixth-grade, had arrived before school to welcome their former teacher. Between the two of them was a pink hoodie, pink scarf, pink shoes, pink backpack, and pink dress.
On each side of them were kids who had spray-painted their hair pink.
"She makes everyone feel like they are special and she's someone we'll always remember," said Megan, when asked why she had come to show her support.
Third-grader Brendan Hales was in Inderrieden's class last year, so he came to the pink-out with a cleanly-shaved head.
"I like helping out and wanted to show her that I care," said Hales.
Seeing nearly 400 students arrive 30 minutes prior to school made Amber Callister emotional, having organized the event with the PTA and school faculty.
"This is a lesson the kids will remember for the rest of their life - how to love someone else," said Callister.
Back in her classroom with a trail of pink-laden students following her, Inderrieden referred to a poster she has hanging on her classroom wall, that reads 'The soul is healed by being with children.'
"That sums this experience up," said Inderrieden. "Kids are our hope for brighter days."