Jack Beckman slips into a hospital?s cancer ward quietly. No cameras. He feels that would be ?embarrassing.? No sportscasters. No media announcements. He didn?t beat lymphoma so he could become a media darling. He gets enough attention as it is being an NHRA drag racer. He goes there because people stricken want to see someone who came out the other side.
?The kids, the ones about 8 and under, they think mom and dad still will take care of them, so I keep it light,? Beckman said. ?The adults, they know what?s up. You can be real and direct with them. It?s the group from 12-20, that?s the tough group. If it?s a teenager, I ask for mom and dad to leave the room so I can talk with the teenager alone.?
How real does it get? Depends on the teenager. Beckman might mention those three nights in which he went to bed in so much pain and depression he thought he would never see the morning. Beckman might say drag racing keeps his mind off cancer, since going 300 miles an hour in less than four seconds ?is G-force therapy.? Or Beckman might judge it?s time for a giggle, that when he was in the middle of chemotherapy, he had to fly wearing a dust mask to prevent his weakened system from being compromised by even a common cold, ?and I got early boarding, too.?
However Beckman plays it, he can play it from all the angles because he has seen all the angles, gone through all the angles and, now, in his fifth year of remission, is here to talk about it. Beckman once may have gone 333.66 mph in his Funny Car but he?ll never go as fast as the cancer story that always precedes him.
Beckman, who is a drag racing instructor in Southern California, said he once asked his students ?If John Force knew there was a 50-50 chance he would wreck on the next run, would he run? My students said, ?Oh, yeah. He?s a drag racer. He?s gotta run.? I responded, ?If he would say that, he would be an idiot. There?s a 1-in-3,000 chance something will happen on a run. That?s a tolerable rate of risk. But 50-50? Come on??
How about a 40-60 chance to live? That?s the odds quoted to Beckman in 2004, when he was diagnosed with high grade 3B lymphoma. For the previous nine months Beckman had never gone more than a week without feeling run down, worn out. He thought he was just battling a pesky cold. But when the CAT scan came back, it revealed about six pounds of tumors on the left side of his body, from his neck to his abdomen down to his pelvis, Beckman didn?t have the wherewithal to be stunned.
?I was in so much pain,? he said, ?the doctors could have told me they needed to amputate my leg and I wouldn?t have cared.?
Eight chemotherapy sessions ? the first couple of sessions ?felt like there were termites inside me? ? eradicated the disease. Many cancer survivors tell stories on how they found religion, a new meaning in life or a renewed appreciation for summer flowers. Beckman, 43, offered no such epiphanies.
?I am the same person I was before,? he said, ?with 10 percent less energy. Somber? Yes, I think that?s a good word for it. I?m a little bit somber about it. I don?t have the same edge I had before.?