Memorial services will be held today at 10 a.m. at American Martyrs Catholic Church for Manhattan Beach Police Officer Mark Vasquez, 35, who succumbed to multiple myeloma cancer on May 15.
More than 1,000 people are expected with perhaps up to 3,000 in attendance, said officer Stephanie Martin, the department’s public information officer, on Wednesday.
Vasquez, who began his battle with the disease in late 2006, is survived by his wife Lee, two daughters Madison, 9, and Ashley, 7; his mother Jo Ubina, and his father Manuel Vasquez, Jr. He joined the force in March of 2005 and would have turned 36 on May 22.
“We all figured if anyone was gonna beat it, it would be Mark,” said Detective Andrew Enriquez, who first met Vasquez in 2005 when he was one of Enriquez’ trainees.
“We clicked right away,” said Enriquez on Wednesday. “We were similar in age, had similar families.”
The two enjoyed a close friendship, Enriquez telling Manhattan Beach Patch that he would have a difficult time speaking at his friend’s memorial.
“Mark was the toughest guy I knew,” he said. “At the [police] academy, they talk about the will to survive and never giving up. Mark pretty much epitomized that.”
Said former MBPD Police Chief Rod Uyeda, who retired on May 23, “Mark was truly one of the real good guys. I do not think he had a single enemy. He was sort of like a Will Rogers kind of guy… [he] never met a man he didn’t like.”
There is no known cure for multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells that attacks and destroys bone, according to the Institute for Myeloma and Bone Cancer Research website.
The disease is diagnosed in about 1,000 people per day worldwide and typically strikes the middle-aged or elderly. The average survival rate is five to six years, depending on the severity of the disease.
More and more “first responders,” such as firefighters and police officers, are being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which is thought to be caused by exposure to pesticides, atomic radiation and petroleum products. Under California law, cancer is recognized as a workplace injury for firefighters and police officers.
Vasquez died one day after his daughter’s birthday, according to a blog the family kept. Both of his daughters are born in May and he was there for both birthdays this year.
During his battle with cancer, Vasquez returned to work whenever he could. “He loved this job,” said Enriquez, who would try to tell his friend to take it easy and stay at home, resting.
“Mark’s a people person,” said Enriquez. “He loved everyone, talking and interacting with people. He was the life of the party. He got along with everybody. It didn’t matter what you looked like.
“He’s what you teach your kids to be like when they grow up.”
A graveside memorial at Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes will immediately follow Vasquez’ memorial service. Once completed, a reception will take place from around 3 to 7 p.m. at the Toyota Meeting Hall in the Torrance Cultural Arts Center, 3330 Civic Center Drive.
Donations can be made in Vasquez’ memory to the International Myeloma and Bone Cancer Research Center.