Exorcising the demons

Back in action...Yuvraj Singh at the National Cricket Academy nets at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Like Lance Armstrong, Yuvraj Singh is a shining example of sportspersons who have bravely and successfully fought against cancer. And like the legendary American cyclist, he too has pledged to create an awareness among people about the battle against the dreaded disease. By Vijay Lokapally.

He always thought ‘C’ stood for cricket. Now, for him, it stands for cancer too. “Cancer is the best thing to have happened to me,” said Yuvraj Singh.

Like Lance Armstrong, Yuvraj is a shining example of sportspersons who have fought bravely and successfully against cancer. And like the legendary American cyclist, Yuvraj too has pledged to create an awareness among the people about the battle against the dreaded disease by setting a personal example.

A man who left the opposition breathless and clueless, Yuvraj came to experience pain and solitude that hurt him a lot. Constant coughing and bouts of wheezing in the middle of the night began to frighten him. He had a job to accomplish — the World Cup was on, but his physical condition was such that he had not experienced anything like it anytime in the past. Yuvraj, however, carried on. India won the World Cup. When the celebrations had died down, his ailment was diagnosed as a rare germ cell cancer. He was up against an enemy that often emerges the winner. Yuvraj was different though: he was determined to overcome this enemy.

Backed by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Yuvraj underwent top quality treatment in the United States where the noted oncologist, Dr. Lawrence Einhorn, ensured that Yuvraj lived. Dr. Einhorn had saved Armstrong in 1996 when the cyclist had suffered from testicular cancer.

Armstrong’s fight against cancer became legendary after he returned to top-flight competition with great success. Similarly, Yuvraj is now ready to return to international competition and serve Indian cricket after virtually a “rebirth.”

For someone who, as a newcomer, would evade training drills at Bishan Singh Bedi’s camps, Yuvraj has set a very tough training regimen for himself. How did the transformation come about?

Yuvraj laughed. “Anyone would run away from Bedi paaji’s camp. Jokes apart, he was too good even if demanding.

All by himself...Yuvraj Singh by the side of a canal in Indiana.-

“That hard grind helped. I had trained earlier also or else how can you survive 12 years of international cricket? I must have done something right to be there for such a long time. It has been tough on my body from the time I have attempted this comeback. There have been times when I went through hell. The body would hurt a lot because I was not used to such hard training. I would struggle initially and tell myself ‘I can’t take it anymore’. But with each passing day I put extra load on my body and my muscle memory started to respond. I am so happy I am training six to seven hours daily…I am really feeling good,” he said.

What does his second life — if we can call it that — mean to Yuvraj in terms of cricket and friends and family?

His response was candid: “It is definitely second life for me and it means a lot.

“When I was going through this, I never doubted my return but always wanted to come back and that was a reality. I wanted to make it happen really.”

Yuvraj has begun to value small things, small happiness, the meaning of family and friends. Importantly, whenever he had doubts they assured him and instilled the belief in him that he would come back. “That gave me the energy and strength. Before cancer, I knew only two sets of groups — cricketing and family. Now I have a third group — the cancer survivors. They look up to me. I know them through the pain that we have suffered. My comeback will inspire them no doubt. I am back on my feet and it will give them hope, resilience and the will to fight. This comeback means a lot,” he said.

Most people, including his admirers, had ruled out Yuvraj’s chances of making a comeback. They were convinced he would not have the energy to last an international contest. He disagreed strongly. During the time he was preparing for the comeback, we met quite a few times and Yuvraj was focussed on returning to the cricket field at the earliest.

What was on his mind during the treatment?

“I remained positive. I will give a lot of credit to my mother and friends. I never allowed the negativity of cancer to depress me. To play cricket again was paramount for me. I was in the hands of a great doctor and he had assured that he would not only save me but also save the quality of my life. Thanks to him I am back to where I belong,” Yuvraj said.

Being a sportsman helped Yuvraj immensely. He realised that he would be in a state to take on the dreaded disease, essentially on the strength of his sporting instincts. “By nature, sportsmen are competitive. They have the will to fight and face the ups and downs in a spirited manner. Being a sportsman gives you an idea about how to remain balanced in pressure situations,” Yuvraj said.

Yuvraj hardly showed any signs of fatigue when he met the media on his return from the United States in May. He was keen to put across his views. “I have been through a very tough period. It has definitely been the toughest battle of my life, can’t compare it with the World Cup win but playing cricket is far easier than fighting cancer,” he admitted.

Moral support... Yuvraj Singh with Anil Kumble who called on him during his treatment in the United States.-

Long stints at the National Cricket Academy prepared Yuvraj for his comeback. How differently will he approach cricket and life?

“This time one thing is for sure, I will enjoy my cricket. The ailment has taught me to value life. So I want to enjoy cricket and life. I used to get nervous before big matches, but now I will just go there and make the most of what God has given me as second life. I look at life differently and don’t worry about what will happen. What has to happen, will happen! Why lose sleep over it? I value friends and family and am calm now,” he said.

Yuvraj is once again committed to serving Indian cricket and also inspiring cancer patients to fight. His Charity Foundation for Cancer, YouWeCan, is his initiative in this direction.

Yuvraj, 30, has the backing of thousands, and importantly, of Lance Armstrong.

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Yuvraj Singh with his mother Shabnam at the hospital before a chemo session.-

'I admire him for his courage Shabnam Singh (Yuvraj Singh’s mother):

He has fought bravely from an incredible situation. He stayed positive during his training and fitness was his most important factor. The motivation he got from the support staff was amazing. He has been doing 6-7 hours of hard work and it is mainly thanks to them.

I really admire him for his courage. He hardly had a choice but to fight back. There are the ups and downs in life, but he has bounced back like a tiger. He and I think alike actually when it comes to dealing with pressures in life.

Our gurujis (Sant Baba Ajit Singhji and Sant Baba Ram Singhji) always blessed us and gave us the assurance that Yuvi will be fine and playing soon.

I would give the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) a lot of credit for its support. It has been very kind and caring, especially N. Srinivasan and Rajiv Shukla. Honestly, I didn’t expect this kind of help but they said it was their duty to protect their players.

Cricket remains Yuvi’s first love even though I would like to see him settle down, but there is no hurry. He has to find the right partner who understands that a sportsman’s life is not easy. The highs are very good and the lows are very bad. She has to be supportive and ready to make sacrifices. I am sure he will tell me when he finds the right girl.

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Yuvraj Singhwith his friends Sandeep Sharma (right) and Nishant Jeet Arora in Indiana.-

All about will power Nishant Jeet Arora (friend and manager):

It was a tough time, but he ensured that he would be tougher than the times. He never asked ‘why me, why me?’

‘When I won the World Cup Man of the Series, I never asked why me? Then why should I ask why me now?’ was his way of facing the challenge. But he also kept reminding himself that he had to fight and emerge the winner.

I rarely saw him depressed or down. He was always up for a fight. He wanted to assert that cancer had come to a wrong body. His mother was a pillar. She fought like a tigress. His very existence stood challenged and it was some feat to pull him out of the jaws of death. His doctors kept assuring they would not only save his life but the quality of his life too. Give him the power to play cricket. From the chemo sessions he always walked out like a man who never had any cancer. The ailment also proved how the country loves him. I have always enjoyed a special bond with him (since 1994) and his recovery meant so much to me.

Sandeep Sharma (friend and first-class cricketer):

I have known him for 20 years now and we spent some great time together. Cricket brought us close and then our friendship grew. I always knew he was a special player, but I would not have known he was such a special fighter. To win this battle against cancer was so typical of Yuvi. There is no doubt that he was in a very bad shape and we would constantly pray that he wins this match against cancer. There was nothing for him to prove on the cricket field but this was different. He, in fact, enjoyed the treatment and threw pressure out of the window. It was a different Yuvi that I saw in the United States. He was matured, caring as always, wanting to help even when he was unwell.

His recovery was the best feeling I have had in many years and I am looking forward to be at Visakhapatnam when he takes guard against New Zealand. It will be a joy to see Yuvi on the cricket field again.

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That's the spirit

Stirring tales of comebacks abound in sport. Heroes have emerged from crippling injuries to traverse great distances and scale unknown heights. Human spirit is often exemplified in their inspiring fights that bring unlimited joy to the public.

Yuvraj Singh is the latest addition to the list of such brave sportsmen. He emerged successful in the battle against a rare germ cell cancer and is now ready to prove that he is not lost to cricket. Just as Dave Callaghan, the South African, who successfully overcame testicular cancer and returned to the cricket field in the mid 1990s.

The story of Simon O’Donnell is equally motivating. After the 1987 World Cup, which Australia won in Calcutta, Simon was diagnosed with a type of blood cancer but he fought back bravely and played international cricket for a few years before taking to commentating.

Lance Armstrong remains the greatest of icons in the fight against cancer. When doctors gave him only 40 per cent chance of survival from testicular cancer, the American cyclist vowed to fight and he did with great courage, overcoming pain and depression to win the Tour de France. Most recently, Petr Koukal, the Czech badminton player, successfully overcame testicular cancer and participated in the London Olympics.