Marinette firefighters, from left, Matt Piikkla, Doug VanWinkle and Clint Stewart look over the new T-shirts for sale to support former co-worker Rene Rocque in her treatment of cancer. Rocque was the department’s administrative assistant for 24 years. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Marinette firefighters, from left, Matt Piikkla, Doug VanWinkle and Clint Stewart look over the new T-shirts for sale to support former co-worker Rene Rocque in her treatment of cancer. Rocque was the department’s administrative assistant for 24 years. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
MARINETTE - At age 51, Rene Rocque had a lot of life ahead of her, a great job and two loving children. One September day in 2011, Rocque's world turned upside down. She found a lump.

"I believe it was on a Friday and the following week I was already scheduled and seeing Dr. Sakti Chacrabarti," she said, "they were just that fast."

Since then she's undergone chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and radiation.

"When all that was over, around March 2012, I had a few months off," she said. "In October 2012, I went back in and had a PT scan and found that it had returned and metastasized in my liver."

The next port of call on Rocque's journey through cancer came in November of 2012 when she went to the Mayo Clinic. The prognosis wasn't good.

"I was told there was nothing they could do for me there," she said.

At that point, she returned to Marinette where Dr. Chacrabarti started her on a different chemo drug but the outlook was still grim.

"I was told to get my affairs in order," she said. "Basically, I had been given until March/April 2013 as an expiration date."

A calendar can be a cruel reminder of mortality as a PT scan in July proved when a tumor was found growing on her lung. Rocque said she's hopeful the chemo treatment she started last week under her new doctor, Dr. Roberto Montoya, will do the trick.

If being forced into retirement at an early age, battling cancer on two fronts, and losing all her hair wasn't enough, Rocque is also concerned about her two children, Rich, 21, who is attending UW-Stout and Beth, 17, who will be a senior this year at St. Thomas Aquinas Academy. Rocque said her goal right now is to see both her children graduate.

Just as there are emotional battles, there are also physical battles she faces each day.

"It's hard having no strength or energy. I took all that for granted," she said. "I definitely get sick and tired of being sick and tired all the time. The prognosis is terminal, but it's not over until it's over and I am not going to worry about an expiration date, because miracles do happen."

If the Marinette firefighters have anything to say about this, a miracle will happen. For the past 24 years Rocque has served as the administrative assistant at the Marinette Fire Department.

"Some of us were talking about it and got it together and decided to do a fundraiser for Rene," said first-year firefighter Jason Lemire. "She was forced into retirement because of her battle with breast cancer. Each firefighter bought two of them and some bought extras for their family."

Those same T-shirts are available to the public for $15. The front has the Marinette Fire Department logo, the back says "Marinette Fire Department" and one of the sleeves has a pink fire hose in the shape of a cancer ribbon with the words, "Firefighters for a Cure." The shirts were printed locally at High Rev Graphics in Marinette.

Lemire said they've been selling them since just after the Relay for Life and that sales have been pretty good. A new shipment of shirts is expected on Monday. The department feels so strongly about the cause that they have something special planned for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

"A couple days in the month of October we'll be wearing them (the pink shirts) while were on duty in place of our blue shirts," said Lemire.

When Rocque heard about what the firefighters were doing she was almost speechless.

"The firefighters are awesome. They are an amazing group of guys," she said. "They have always been there for me and my kids and I can never thank them enough. I have to say that although I'm pretty unlucky, I'm very fortunate in many ways. The fire, police and city hall employees have done so much for me through this ordeal. And, even the staff at BAMC Cancer Care are great. So, although the cancer totally sucks, I am very blessed to be surrounded by so many caring friends and family."