LEWISTON – For two years, Denise Dube fought cancer.

A rare brain tumor couldn’t dampen her explosive spirit. Surgery couldn’t take her away from her son’s football games.

And nothing – not debilitating headaches nor chemotherapy – could keep her from her kindergartners.

“The more challenging something was, the more she had to do it,” said Dube’s sister, Diane Goulet. “My kids need me,’ she said.”

But this weekend the longtime teacher and mother of two lost her battle. She died on Easter Sunday, her 36th birthday.

“In a way, that’s an accomplishment. She made it another year,” said her sister-in-law, Kim Dube.

Born and raised in Lewiston, Dube was the cheerful, outgoing baby of the family. Even as a child, family members dubbed her the “little social butterfly.”

In 1993, Dube received a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Southern Maine. She loved helping others and she loved kids – teaching seemed natural to her.

As a kindergarten teacher at Martel Elementary School in Lewiston, Dube quickly became a favorite among kids and parents. Her lessons were always hands-on, playing on students’ innate curiosity.

For one popular lesson, she sprinkled the school halls with fake cookie crumbs and lead her 5- and 6-year-olds on a hunt for a runaway gingerbread man. They always ended up back in their classroom, where cookies waited.

“She always wanted to do more and do better,” her sister-in-law said.

Already juggling a full-time teaching job and a family, Dube decided that “do more and do better” meant a master’s degree in education. She graduated from the University of New England in 2004.

But Dube, who had begun to get headaches, didn’t feel well during the graduation ceremony, family members said. Soon after, doctors diagnosed a brain tumor.

They gave her about six months to live.

She went through chemotherapy and several operations. Sometimes the headaches were so bad she couldn’t sleep.

Still, she always went to school. She wanted to be there for her kindergartners.

“If she could walk, she would be at work. She went in with a cane,” said her husband, Shawn Dube. “I think that Martel is what kept her alive. Working and her boys.”

Her strength touched staff members at the close-knit school. They held a massive bottle drive last spring to help Dube with expenses. They planned to walk in Dube’s honor at the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life fundraiser in June. They will now walk in her memory.

Dube’s force of will kept her in the classroom until a month ago. She was just as determined not to let cancer keep her from her sons, 14-year-old Tyler Roy and 5-year-old Brandon Dube. During one cold fall day, she signed herself out of the hospital and promised to return only when her oldest son’s championship football game was over.

“She fought it (cancer) from the get-go, and she was going to do everything she could not to let it get her,” said Susan Conklin, a fellow kindergarten teacher at Martel.

Dube’s service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Holy Cross Church. Tributes may be made online at www.mem.com.