Alex Bourque went to the orthopedist for knee pain. Maybe a strained ligament, he thought. The actual diagnosis strained his entire world.
It seemed impossible. He was 25 years old. He fought fires for a living and came home to his young family — a wife and a 3-year-old son and another baby boy on the way.
“Man, it feels like time stopped,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Where do you go from here?’”
Like his father and brother, Alex is a firefighter for the Lafayette Fire Department in Louisiana. He’s been on the job for roughly six years, short of the 10 years it takes to even be considered for medical retirement. Even with insurance, his medical bills are staggering.
That’s why he was overjoyed this weekend to learn that the Fire Department Coffee Foundation has donated $10,000 so he can worry less about the cost and focus more on the fight.
Alex’s grin spread from ear to ear as he posed with the ceremonial check outside Fire Station 2 on Saturday. The gift is intended to make his life a little easier so he can give his all to beating cancer and getting back to work.
“I was very shocked and humbled when I saw the amount and who it came from,” he said. “The brotherhood … it’s just amazing.”
Alex’s diagnosis came in April. By May, things got even worse. He was walking outside to cut the grass when he heard a crack and felt his leg give way. His bone had broken.
He wore a cast for more than three months. He wore it while he endured four cycles of chemotherapy treatments at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas. He was wearing it on July 29, when his wife, Jenae, gave birth to their son Zander.
He wore it right up until September 13, when doctors amputated his right leg at the knee.
Fire Dept. Coffee learned of Alex’s story in mid-November when we received a message from Jason Benoit, president of the Lafayette Professional Firefighters Association Local 619.
One of the members knew that the Fire Department Coffee Foundation is dedicated to helping ill or injured first responders. After a brief discussion, they decided to reach out.
“We’re so glad that they told us about Alex. The way he has attacked his cancer battle is inspiring,” said Fire Dept. Coffee President Luke Schneider. “The entire Fire Department Coffee crew stands behind Alex and first responders like Alex who are facing health risks and health challenges. In this family, nobody fights alone.”
Alex has an army behind him. His fellow firefighters have already pitched in by hosting blood drives. As blood is donated, the hospital offers him credit toward his medical bills.
They’ve hosted a golf tournament, held an auction, sold T-shirts, and more. They’ve donated their own vacation time so that Alex — his sick leave and annual leave now spent — could continue to be paid even as he takes time off the job to focus on recovering.
Between the money raised by his fellow firefighters and the Fire Dept. Coffee donation, Alex’s medical bills are now fully covered.
Part of his leg is gone. They’ve also discovered cancerous spots on his lungs that will require monitoring for the rest of his life.
It doesn’t change his outlook. The main question on Alex’s mind isn’t whether he’ll beat cancer. He knows he will.
The question is, when will he get back to work?
Once his leg has healed from the amputation, Alex will return to MD Anderson Cancer Center to be fitted for a prosthetic. Then he’ll begin the rehabilitation process with an eye on returning to his old job, driving the truck and thriving in the center of the action.
“If you’ve ever seen the Paralympics, you see how successful they are with their prosthetics,” Alex said. “If these guys are running and jumping, there’s no reason I wouldn’t be able to that that. I have young kids. I’m super active. I don’t see any reason I couldn’t do it.”
In the meantime, the department has opened a spot for him on the communications side. He’ll take the necessary civil service exam soon. No matter what, he’ll have a job with the Lafayette Fire Department.
“He’s bound and determined that he’s going to come back to work on the fire department, on the line,” Jason Benoit said. “He was an engineer, driver, pump operator. With his determination, if anyone can make it back, it would be Alex.”
In the months since his cancer diagnosis, Alex has heard people call him an inspiration. They see how he’s fighting and how he’s winning. Knowing that his success can motivate others helps fuel his drive to get back to the job he loves most.
“I’m glad that I can help someone who may be struggling with something,” he said. “If they can look at me and my struggles and find some strength to push through whatever challenges they’re facing, that’s an awesome thing.”
From left to right: Captain Johnny Monette, Captain Cody Prejean, Firefighter Carl Joseph Jr, Firefighter James Boudreaux, Assistant Chief Mike Bourque, Engineer Alex Bourque, Assistant Chief Jason Benoit, Engineer Joshua Bourque, Captain Bryan Champagne, Captain Charles Williams, Engineer Mike Leon, and Captain Josh Guillory