Community donates for officer with cancer

By mid-afternoon last Friday, residents, city officials and cops from all over the South Bay faced a two-hour wait at the Joslyn Community Center in Manhattan Beach to donate blood in the name of MBPD officer Mark Vasquez.

For the last three years, Vasquez, 35, has faced a roller coaster battle with multiple myeloma, a rare cancer of the plasma cells.

By the day’s end, 160 of Vasquez’ friends, family, co-workers and complete strangers collectively donated 120 pints of blood in support of a man who is described as always having a smile on his face.

“I’m overwhelmed with this turnout,” said MBPD Rod Chief Uyeda. “This is light. Earlier, it was standing room only.”

A steady stream of blue uniforms from Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Torrance, Inglewood, Gardena, El Segundo and LAX police departments filtered in and out of the packed center throughout the day.

“If it involves an officer and there’s any way to help, I’ll do it,” said LAX police officer James Bow, who couldn’t donate blood due to tattoos. He did, however, register with the national bone marrow registry.

Vasquez, a Redondo Beach native, worked two years at the MBPD before being diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2007.

MBPD Officer Mark Vasquez.

“Every time you walk around the station, everywhere you turn, there’s a picture of Mark,” Uyeda said. “And we know he’s at home battling it out.”

After graduating from California State University Dominguez Hills with a bachelor’s degree in 1999, Vasquez married his high school sweetheart, Lee. The couple has two daughters, Madison, 8, and Ashley, 6. Vasquez decided to enter law enforcement after going on a ride-along with a Torrance police officer.

“After that ride-along, he was like, ‘This is it,’” Lee, 34, said. “He was sold.”

Vasquez started with the MBPD in 2005 and quickly became known for his upbeat attitude.

“Mark’s very special,” Uyeda said. “He’s so positive and he’s what everyone wishes for in a son, a brother, a father and an officer.”

In late 2006, Vasquez started experiencing back pain and a MRI revealed a tumor in his vertebrae. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery to remove the tumor. He has since been through multiple rounds of radiation and chemo therapies, and has been hospitalized eight times.

Early on, Lee started a blog to keep family and friends abreast of Vasquez’ progress.

“He’s still very, very tired and has very little strength,” Lee posted two days after the drive. “Every day, we walk outside and every day, we focus on filling up with some good calories. It’s essential that we get some more meat on his bones. A day at a time, with patience, we can get there.”

Last month, Vasquez had his second stem cell transplant in an attempt at long-term remission.

“The plan to transplant again is very aggressive and involves very serious risks,” Lee wrote in a July post. “But the alternative at this point is to essentially accept palliative care until, well until the myeloma takes his life…Our decisions are all based on the fact that Mark is just not ready to give up. He never will be.”

Despite the relentless treatments, family members describe Vasquez as optimistic and looking to the future.

“He knows first-hand now how tough the chemo is going be,” Lee wrote. “He’ll tell you he’s really looking forward to getting it over with though, so we can celebrate 50 more wedding anniversaries together.”

Two months ago, Mark and Lee celebrated their 10-year anniversary in the hospital. Vasquez returned home the day before the blood drive from a 30-day hospital stay.

City of Manhattan Beach Interim city manager Richard Thompson signed up for the two-hour wait at Joslyn, while City Councilmember Richard Montgomery was unable to give blood due to a recent procedure.

“This is a really amazing turnout,” Montgomery said. “And not just city employees, but friends, family and members of the community.”

The drive was also attended by the mom and brother of Steve Kroesen, a Torrance police officer who engaged in a high-profile battle with cancer after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2007. Kroesen died last year two days after his father died of lung cancer.

The amount of blood collected from the drive equals enough to save 360 lives, and 80 people were added to the national bone marrow registry.

“I know Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Blood Bank in Beverly Hills considers the drive a huge success,” Lee posted.

Vasquez will remain at home for three months before retuning to the hospital to complete the final part of the stem cell transplant.

“It’s been a tough road,” said Vasquez’ mom, Jo Ubina-Smith. “But for all he’s gone through, he’s always got a smile on his face.”

In a blogpost last month, Lee posted a photo of Mark’s face connected to Superman’s body.

“We know it will get worse before it gets better but all things considered, he’s doing great,” she wrote next to it. “I put this picture up on his white board today to remind him of who he is.”

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Blood Bank is accepting platelet and “O” negative blood donations for MBPD officer Mark Vasquez. People with all blood types can donate platelets. For more information, visit The family asks that people who wish to make monetary donations do so to one of the following organizations: Institute for Myeloma and Bone Cancer Research, Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation or International Myeloma Foundation. For more information about the Vasquez’ story, visit ER


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