Ed Schrank, 38, was a technical sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. He is missing his left eye and part of his face surrounding it because of tear-duct cancer.
Warning: contains strong language.
I grew up in rural Illinois. I was never very much about physical appearance. Young people who look good… they care about physical appearance. Young people who rebel, they also care, the kids who are wearing all black. I was neither of those.
My older brother was a popular guy. It never occurred to me to look a certain way. My hair was weird. I just wasn’t a member of trends… It was never about fitting in, or rebelling.
Why did you join the Marines?
I was bored. It was the first thing I ever did to not do everything my brothers did. Before then all I ever wanted to do was what they did.
I joined the Marines, this is 1996, and I just travelled. I did a “hardship tour” – you sign these contracts, they would give you extra money. That’s what I wanted to do. Imagine someone paid you extra for what you wanted to do. What a cool, badass word [hardship]. You get to go to places in the world where no one wants to go to. I liked ’em. I liked being in the middle of the desert somewhere.
I was a high-performing Marine. I was selected for some programmes that made me feel like I’d really accomplished a lot. Then all of a sudden, if you haven’t been to war, you weren’t shit in the Marines. So all the things I had done were now meaningless. I was like, “I gotta go.”
I got hurt in Ramadi [in 2006]. Then they found a brain tumour. I was supposed to die that year… I had this extremely rare, extremely slow-growing brain tumour… It actually started in the tear duct, then it spread through the nerves and ended in the brain, over the course of a couple years. I have brain damage because of it… I have a fake skull.
Why not continue reconstructive surgery or wear a facial prosthetic?
I didn’t care. People used to talk to me [about having more surgery]. I didn’t make a big moral stand, like “No! I’m going to go with my appearance and I’m going to be stronger for it.” It wasn’t that hard for me because I already had this personality.
I had 17 goddamn surgeries over four years. You think I want another fucking surgery? Who the fuck does that to themselves? Fuck you. For what? I got surgery to save my life. I am the most radiated person in the history of medical radiation… Separate teams from Harvard, the University of Chicago and Northwestern saved my life multiple times. Now you want me to do more medical care so that I look nicer? FUUUCK YOU! It is so offensive to me. And this person is looking at me because they care about me. They think they are helping me… I didn’t grow stronger. I was already like this.