Duncan Poly student with cancer sees graduation finish line

The Fresno BeeJune 12, 2013 

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Mark Guajardo, right, and his twin brother, Matthew, are photographed before their graduation from Duncan Polytechnical High School on Wednesday at the Saroyan Theater.

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Identical twins Mark and Matthew Guajardo have shared many memories in their 18 years. Another came Wednesday night, graduating together from Duncan Polytechnical High School.

But for Mark, the road to graduation wasn't easy. A double dose of bad news since last summer forced him to leave school, his friends and his brother behind.

Mark was rushed to the emergency room at Children's Hospital Central California last year after complaining about pain in his knee. He was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a cancerous bone tumor on his left femur, and had to leave Duncan to receive several aggressive rounds of chemotherapy treatment.

Results from a recent MRI threw another wrench into the mix: specks of cancer appear to have spread to his lungs.

"That's the first time I'd actually seen my son break down," said Mark's mom, Naomi Vang. "It was a scary moment, an emotional moment. … I hug my son and I just tell him, 'Don't give up on me. I'm not ever going to give up on you.' "

Mark may need to undergo another surgery this summer, Vang said. But that's not keeping his family from planning for the future.

Like the last 18 years, the brothers plan to spend the next four side by side: Both aim to study nursing at Fresno State, where they were accepted this spring.

The decision to seek careers in medicine was a switch for both her sons, Vang said. "Somewhere down the line, they both came to me and changed their major and want to pursue nursing and learn more about Mark's illness," she said. "They want to help others who have the same thing."

Even while he underwent hospital stays, Mark kept his books open and his mind sharp. On Wednesday, he graduated with a 3.0 grade-point average — and got kudos from his home instruction teacher, Donald Rotella.

"He never complains, and this is very unusual for a kid with cancer," said Rotella, who's taught Mark at home and in the hospital since he became sick. "He wouldn't tell me he was in pain. … He was just such a cooperative kid that never expressed dissatisfaction or unhappiness."

Mark is earnest when he talks about his illness — and his accomplishments.

"You've just got to think positively," he said, "and rely on your family and push through."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, hfurfaro@fresnobee.com or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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