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'Praying For Mark': Hockey Player Mark Beban Battles Late-Stage Lung Cancer

By Justin Breen | April 29, 2013 7:12am | Updated on April 29, 2013 8:56am
 Mark Beban, of Northbrook, is battling stage 4 lung cancer. The Chicago area hockey community has come together to support Beban, a longtime ice hockey defenseman in the area.
Mark Beban
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Editor's note: Mark Beban passed away Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014. This story originally was published April 29, 2013.

CHICAGO — The Chicago hockey community has rallied around one of its own in his battle with  cancer.

Mark Beban, 37, has stage 4 lung cancer, which has spread into his spleen, brain, liver and bones.

Although only diagnosed with the disease in March, it has kept the longtime defenseman who has played for several club teams, including some that skated at Johnny's IceHouse on the Near West Side, off the ice for months.

Dozens of players gathered just to honor Beban — whose father, Gary, won college football's 1967 Heisman Trophy — at a ceremony at a suburban ice rink, and through their efforts, his plight even made the airwaves during a Chicago Blackhawks broadcast.

 "MB23" logo in honor of Chicago area hockey player Mark Beban, who's battling stage 4 lung cancer.
"MB23" logo in honor of Chicago area hockey player Mark Beban, who's battling stage 4 lung cancer.
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Facebook/Praying For Mark

"The hockey community has been fantastic," said Jordan Diamond, who has played with Beban for many years, including at Johnny's.

"We couldn't do this without everyone else's support," agreed his wife Jenny, who has known Mark since high school and who started a Facebook page, "Praying For Mark," which gives daily detailed reports of his condition. The page has more than 1,000 followers. "Friends have brought us dinners. My parents have been here every single night.

"We saw death, and now we are seeing hope."

'So much pain'

It's been a tough road. Beban, who is not a smoker, has lost 30 pounds. His hair is shorter. A self-employed handyman, he must nap from noon to 2 p.m. daily.

"Five months ago, he was playing beach volleyball at my wedding in the Dominican Republic," said Diamond, of River West. "Seeing him like this, it just shouldn't be."

But Beban has battled. In late March, when a blood clot had formed on his heart and he could barely breathe, Beban said doctors asked him what his final wishes were.

"At first, I was in so much pain that I didn't think I was going to be around," Beban said. "But then I told them, 'I don't know what you're talking about. I'm not leaving. I'm fighting this thing.'"

And Beban was adamant that he'll be back on the ice soon, thanks to Tarceva, a medication that targets cancer cells in the body, which has helped his condition immensely since he recently started taking it.

"I'm hoping I'll be able to play again in a couple months, as long as the wife lets me go," he said. "I feel well enough to do it."

He was in a rink recently, although not to play.

At an event earlier this month, players posed for photos and held up two signs that combined to read: "Stay Strong Beebs ... And Keep Fighting."

Beban was then given the photos during a honorary ceremony April 12 at a Skokie ice arena. The photos now hang in his Northbrook home, where he lives with his wife, two daughters — Izabella, 3, and Charli, 2 — and 1-year-old son Ryland.

Pucks that night featured the logo "MB23" — Beban's initials and uniform number. Beban dropped a first puck, stepping slowly onto the rink on a red carpet ordered especially for the evening.

"It was pretty cool. He loved it," said Irving Park resident Mike Orzoff, who plays with Beban on the Chicago Outfit hockey team. "When we first heard about what was going on ... the prognosis was completely bleak. It looked like a death sentence. To see how well he's doing and how positive he is ... is pretty unbelievable."

Orzoff and other Outfit players also contacted the Blackhawks, whose legendary play-by-play announcer Pat Foley discussed Beban's situation during a game broadcast after his brush with death.

"He's in the fight of his life," Foley said during the second period of a 2-0 victory over the Calgary Flames on March 26. "I have a pretty good feeling that he'll handle it how he'll handle the forecheck: aggressively!"

From 'death' to 'hope'

Beban, who also will be honored at a Glenbrook North High School alumni game Sunday, stressed he couldn't get by without the support of his family.

"I don't think you could ask more from your life partner," friend Aaron Block of Lakeview, said of Beban's wife. "She's been amazing."

And being around his children — Beban's kids weren't allowed to see him for several weeks in the hospital as doctors worked to diagnose his condition — has been a godsend, too, Jenny Beban said.

While Beban's father, Gary, has also been a rock, he has felt powerless to do much more than offer whatever support he can for his son.

Gary Beban, who as a star quarterback at UCLA beat out O.J. Simpson to become the only Bruin to win college football's most important award, said his son's battle has been beyond frustrating.

"There's no explanation for how things like this happen," said Gary Beban, the senior executive managing director for Downtown-based CB Richard Ellis. "You have to be looking for miracles and Tinker Bell dust. You have to be looking for solutions that can bring an extension of Mark's life and allow him to enjoy a fuller life."

A kid at heart

Gary Beban nicknamed his son "Big Bird" as a youngster, and Beban gladly takes on the cartoonish mentality.

Because of the cancer, he must eat lots of peanut butter, fish and chicken, but Beban immediately halted a story interview when he heard an ice cream truck in the distance — just to listen to the music.

When asked why he remains positive, Beban pointed at his three kids as they ran around the house and took turns holding a red balloon.

"I'm not going to think about anything bad," Beban said. "We're dealing with this, and we're going to get rid of it."