Excerpts from the ChicagoTribune.com:

Michelle Aprati, a mother of four and a Niles firefighter and paramedic for the last 16 years was working a shift when she received word that she had breast cancer. The hardest part of her diagnosis was telling her family — both at home and at the firehouse. And like family, the men of the Niles Fire Department stepped forward to offer their support.

On Feb. 16, they and members of the Park Ridge, North Maine, Morton Grove, Skoki,e and Glenview fire departments gathered at the Niles fire station to shave their heads in solidarity with Aprati, who is in the middle of her first phase of chemotherapy treatments. She had been planning to have her husband shave her head due to the hair loss she was experiencing from the treatments, but when she heard members of the department wanted to do a mass shaving event at the fire station, she agreed to hold off.

The event also acted as a fundraiser to help pay her medical expenses not covered by insurance. When someone offered to donate $500 if Fire Chief Marty Feld agreed to shave his decades-old mustache in addition to the hair on his head, Aprati picked up the shaver. About 50 people, most of them fire personnel or family members, volunteered to have their heads shaved. 

In addition to contributing financial donations, firefighters sold pins shaped like pink ribbons to raise money for Aprati. She is the only female firefighter/paramedic in Niles hired in 2003 and working there ever since. Her father was a fire chief in Elk Grove Village and Itasca.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in December, she is in her sixth of 12 rounds of chemotherapy and has felt well enough to continue working her regular shifts. She acknowledges, though, that as her treatment progresses, fatigue may force her to take some time off. After her first series of treatments, she will begin a second phase that requires four cycles of new cancer-fighting drugs. Surgery and radiation will follow. Her cancer spread to her lymph nodes and is considered to be stage 3 or 4, but she explained that she is taking her doctor’s advice to focus on how it is being treated, rather than the stage given to it.