Santa Monica police Lt. Frank Fabrega knows what it’s like to be a cancer patient and he is using his experience to help make a difference for people who may become future patients.
Fabrega, 52, a prostate cancer survivor and 31-year officer in the Santa Monica Police Department, was appointed in October to serve a two-year term on the Los Angeles Regional Council of the American Cancer Society.
As a member of the volunteer board, Fabrega will represent a wide range of professionals who oversee American Cancer Society fundraising, advocacy, education and patient services programs in Los Angeles County.
“Being a former cancer patient myself, I know that people are affected,” said Fabrega, who has a wife, Anita, and two sons, Danny and Michael.
“This opportunity gives me the ability to know that with what I can bring to the table I can help thousands of people.”
Fabrega is involved in various aspects of the American Cancer Society, including being its lead volunteer for the Los Angeles Region and the former chair of the Santa Monica Relay for Life event.
American Cancer Society officials said that under Fabrega’s leadership the Santa Monica Relay for Life event has raised more than $440,000 for cancer research, early detection, education, advocacy and free patient services programs since 2002.
Susan Hepner, cancer society special event director, said Fabrega was appointed to the Regional Council because of his leadership and active involvement with the cancer society.
“He’s able to mobilize and empower volunteers in the community,” Hepner said.
Fabrega, a Thousand Oaks resident, was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003.
He credits his early involvement in the Relay for Life event with showing him the “tools and benefits” that are available in regard to cancer awareness.
After being diagnosed with prostate cancer, Fabrega said he read about the background and treatment of the disease and decided to have surgery.
Fabrega underwent surgery at the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, Boyle Heights, and realized it was a success when the doctor told him, “You are one of the few patients that will leave this hospital cancer-free.”
It took six weeks for Fabrega to recover from surgery, but while he was away from his job, he said he received “incredible” support from the police department and Santa Monica Police Chief James Butts.
“It’s heartwarming to know that you’re missed,” Fabrega said.
Fabrega, who was born in Panama and grew up in the Los Angeles area, has spent his entire law enforcement career in the Santa Monica Police Department.
While studying criminal justice and sociology at California State University, Los Angeles, Fabrega became a police cadet in Santa Monica and considered pursuing a career as an officer.
“Working in Santa Monica I found the people and community very enjoyable, so I thought, when I turn 21, maybe I’ll become a police officer,” he said.
At the age of 21, Fabrega joined the department, where he has spent the last three decades. He earned the rank of sergeant in 1984 and was promoted to lieutenant in 1997.
His primary role is being the adjutant to Chief Butts, which entails community involvement work, but Fabrega also has the important responsibility of being the police department’s press information officer.
In a city like Santa Monica that has millions of visitors a year and receives international attention, Fabrega acknowledges that being the police spokesman has its share of challenges.
The biggest challenge Fabrega said he faces is that a lot of the time the information he has pertains to a criminal investigation and can’t be released.
“At the same time, I understand that the media’s role is to gather information, so I make sure to delicately balance the information that’s released and withheld.”
While Fabrega’s work with the police department and cancer society carries different responsibilities, he said the two roles are alike in how they allow him to help people.
“As a police officer, my main role is to provide public safety to Santa Monica residents, but being a member of the American Cancer Society allows me to provide education and awareness to residents,” Fabrega said.
The police department has been active with the Cancer Society Relay for Life event since 2002, when Butts “embraced the idea” of bringing the event to Santa Monica, Fabrega said.
Relay for Life is a “volunteer-driven” event to raise money for the American Cancer Society, but also to provide education about cancer awareness, he said.
The 24-hour event is held at the Santa Monica College track each July, when members of participating teams take turns walking or running around the track for the entire event to raise money.
Betsy Kollgaard, who works in the Santa Monica Transportation Management Division and is this year’s Relay for Life chair, said Fabrega, the former event chair, is “extremely involved” with the cancer society.
“Frank is a great speaker and he’s very amusing,” Kollgaard said. “He’s very kind and supportive. He stirs empathy in you to want to help others.”
Fabrega said his experience with cancer influenced him to get more involved with the cancer society, and once he had recovered, he immediately returned to working with the organization.
Among his various contributions as a volunteer are giving public speeches about the importance of early detection and helping with other relay events in the Los Angeles region.
While Fabrega is passionate about his work with the cancer society, another one of his joys is working with Santa Monica youths as the board president of the Police Activities League (PAL).
Next month Fabrega will run in his fifth Los Angeles Marathon alongside a group of 25 youngsters, ages 12 to 17, from the Santa Monica PAL to help inspire them about achieving goals.
“I challenge these kids to do good and beat me,” he said. “It’s a life lesson because there’s nothing they can’t do if they set their mind to it.”
Some people might consider themselves fortunate just to have finished one marathon, but Fabrega completed his third marathon only nine months after recovering from cancer.
Although the third race was his slowest, Fabrega said it was also his most “gratifying” because of the $15,000 he raised for the American Cancer Society and the message he sent to PAL youths to “never quit.”
“I’m very fortunate,” he said.
“Every day I push myself because I want to live life to the fullest.”
Information on the American Cancer Society and the Relay for Life event,
firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 227-2345.