OAKLAND -- It was just about a month after he was laid off from the Oakland Police Department with 79 other officers last July that Sor Yang encountered something potentially more dangerous than patrolling city streets.
He started to have headaches. Serious headaches. The 26-year-old, who joined the force in 2008, initially thought these were mere migraines, possibly stress-related after the layoffs and the search for another job in a down economy.
"But they just wouldn't go away, and finally a friend took me to the hospital," Yang said, tapping the scar over his forehead. "They found a tumor in the right frontal lobe. Size of a golf ball."
Doctors diagnosed glioblastoma, considered the most aggressive type of primary brain tumor. Yang, who lives in San Ramon, was hospitalized for more than a month, undergoing surgery to remove the tumor, plus chemo and radiation therapies. He now says he's doing better than expected, but his condition will have to be monitored from here on out.
And because he lost his job during the mass layoffs to ease the city's massive budget deficit, Yang no longer has health benefits. So fellow officers came together at a recent fundraiser to help pay his COBRA payments, and extend his medical coverage.
"We have a saying in the Oakland Police Department: Once OPD, always OPD," said Yang's close friend, Officer Wilson Lau. Lau, who graduated from San Jose State University with Yang, organized the fundraiser at the Grand Oak Sports Grill near police headquarters in downtown Oakland. He describes Yang as a "very patient, understanding, hard worker" who is very generous. "He takes care of his family, and has seven brothers," Lau said.
"At the fundraiser, we had over 100 people show up and even more donations on the phone," Lau said. "I eventually ran out of food, but people kept showing up and donating anyway. It ranged from police officers from Oakland as well as different agencies, district attorneys, judges, civilians from the department and community members. There were even many people who did not know Sor, but they came anyway."
Le Societe de Camaraderie, a professional law enforcement association founded in the 1930s by Oakland police officers but which now embraces active and retired officers from many agencies in the Bay Area and beyond, has also been raising money for Yang.
The group recently solicited its members for donations, collecting $3,000 in September, said Le Societe's president, Tim Sanchez.
Another major contribution came from the Retired Oakland Police Officers Association, Sanchez said.
Yang, a slight but sturdy man, attended the Grand Oak event himself, looking good, shaking hands with a firm grip and thanking people for stopping by.
"I'm really grateful for the support I've been getting," Yang said during the event. "From my family, my girlfriend. And from fellow officers and retired officers. Even from a disabled firefighters organization. Many people who have been through cancer themselves. It's really been great."
Yang loves police work, but feels he may not be able to return to it, instead planning to spend more time with his family right now.
"Police work is a job that really helps others," Yang said. "We go in there and do the things people don't want to do, or are afraid to do. I truly believe it's a good line of work. It was the only thing I wanted to do."
Contact Le Societe de Camaraderie at 510-777-8638 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.