When cancer struck Edward Schrank for the fifth time, the 15-year U.S. Marine Corps veteran was told he would lose his jaw, his voice and, in all probability, his life.
Schrank sought a second opinion from another hospital and got a different prognosis and outcome. And on Saturday at ISM Raceway, he sang the National Anthem before the Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200, the race that would determine the Championship 4 drivers in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
“I think cancer ... there’s a lot of ways you can be brought close to death,” Schrank told the NASCAR Wire Service before pre-race ceremonies. “Cancer is one of those. And when you spend a lot of time being close to dying—which I spent a few years, being told that I was not going to live—and then you emerge from that, you want to have a big life.
“You want to live a lot. So I filled that gap with wanting to do something with my voice, since part of that was losing my voice forever.”
Schrank had already lost his left eye and part of his skull to the first occurrence of head-and-neck cancer, the result of exposure to JP5/8 jet fuel while he was serving in the Marines. Even though he had no background in singing, he saw the preservation of his voice as a gift that should be used.
“I like to say I’ve never sung a note in my life, but as I say that, my mom reminds me that she loved listening to me sing as an altar boy,” Schrank said. “But either way, I think you could round it down to zero, until I was told during my fifth occurrence of cancer that I was going to lose my voice, that they were going to remove my jaw, and I would never speak again.
“When I found a new hospital that was able to save my life and my voice, I thought, ‘Well, I should learn how to sing.’”
But why the National Anthem, generally recognized as one of the most difficult songs to sing?
“My background in the Marine Corps made me feel like ... I love the National Anthem,” Schrank said. “And I also read repeatedly online that the stupidest thing to learn how to sing was the National Anthem.
“And I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to do that.’ Usually when people describe something as stupid, what they mean is people try it, and it’s too difficult, and they quit. And that’s usually something that I get attracted to.”
Now a healthcare entrepreneur who has formed the Military Cancer Initiative, Schrank also served as special assistant to the mayor of Chicago. When he decided to pursue singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” he enlisted the help of perhaps the best-known National Anthem singer in the world—Jim Cornelison, who provides a booming rendition of the anthem before every Chicago Blackhawks home game.
“He is solely responsible for my ability,” Schrank said. “I met with him, I begged him, I bothered him, I nagged him, and he helped me. I don’t think I showed any reason why he should take me on initially. I think he just wanted—he gave me a chance.
“And I took that chance, and I put in all the hard work from one meeting to give him the reason to take on more opportunities, and that turned into meetings most Fridays at his house for two or three hours of hard work.”
On Sunday, on the eve of Veterans Day, Schrank’s hard work, courage, determination was to be on display again for the singing of “God Bless America” before the Bluegreen Vacations 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.