‘Look at me... Cancer doesn’t mean that you’re going to die’

In an exclusive interview, Yuvraj Singh admits to going to England for the Tests in 2011 despite knowing he had a tumour in his left lung.

India's Yuvraj Singh in the nets in Visakhapatnam

: Yuvraj Singh (surely, he doesn’t need an introduction) spoke to The Telegraph for an hour in the lead-up to his India comeback, set to be here, the City of Destiny, on Saturday evening.

The following are excerpts

The training bit apart, what’s your average day like now?

A It’s easy... No stress on the body, no stress on the mind... I’m happy to have got my life back... Initially, the first month (after chemotherapy) had been tough, though. Today, I’m more disciplined eating-wise and sleep-wise.

If you’re comfortable talking about it... When’s the first time that the ‘C’ word came up?

After the 2011 IPL, when I went to a New Delhi hospital for a check-up... That’s when a tumour in my left lung showed up. But I didn’t know whether it was malignant or not.

Despite that, you’d made yourself available for the tour of England...

Yes, because I wanted to play, wanted to play Test cricket.

But you must have been under plenty of stress?

Yeah... I didn’t know what my body was going through... As it turned out, I broke a finger in the second Test (Trent Bridge) and came back home. That was a blessing in disguise, as fresh tests showed the tumour had grown... A biopsy was done... Even then, the diagnosis wasn’t conclusive. Some doctors felt it was cancer, others disagreed.

You continued to play in that state of mental torture...

Well, yes... Every doctor has his or her opinion... That I had cancer was confirmed in London, after I was put through a series of tests by Dr Peter Harper.

Who referred you to Dr Harper?

Oncologist Dr Nitesh Rohatgi, who’d worked in the UK.

Was Dr Harper absolutely frank?

Dr Harper told everyone... He said I had to undergo chemotherapy as the tumour was sitting on my heart and surgery wasn’t an option.

How did you take it?

Was at a loss for words... Was flabbergasted... From being the Player of the Tournament in the World Cup to... It took me a couple of days to accept the reality... From London, I went straight to Indianapolis and to Dr Lawrence Einhorn (of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Centre).

Did you mentally crumble in those couple of days?

I was very sad, sad that I had to go through such things. But my mother (Shabnam) was there and her presence made it a bit easier... You’ve got to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Despite your mother being there, it must have been so tough...

(Emotionally) But that’s life... I wasn’t the first person to be diagnosed with cancer, so I couldn’t ask God ‘why me’? Luckily, I didn’t get diagnosed late.

Shouldn’t you have undergone the tests before the World Cup, by when you’d begun having problems?

Sure, but I didn’t want to miss a World Cup being held at home! Didn’t I have a responsibility towards the country? I did have a problem — I was struggling to breathe from the left lung.

Patients dread chemotherapy... What was your experience?

It’s painful... The drugs suppress you and depress you... Look, you can’t go through it alone, you need the ones closest to you by your side... You lose hair, lose your appetite, the taste buds go, you suffer from nausea, the body becomes weak... You experience mood swings... As the cycles go on, your body becomes weaker and weaker.

The three cycles of chemotherapy took two-and-a-half months...

What turned out to be the last cycle was the toughest, for my body had become so weak. I went through that cycle in hospital. For the first two, I’d stayed at an apartment... After the second cycle, my lung capacity had really gone down and the medicines had to be changed.

Given the problem with appetite, what became your staple food?

Daal, chawal, dahi... Because of the nausea, I’d have only one proper meal a day.

Were there days when you cried?

Yes... The drugs depress and you cry... Crying helped, in that I was able to let it out... It’s an emotion and, at some point or the other, everybody cries. Maybe, I cried a bit more... I don’t know.

What kept you going?

The doctors’ message — that once I’d finished the chemotherapy, I’d walk out of the hospital as a man who never had cancer... Of course, there were more bad days than good, but I’d try and keep myself in a nice frame of mind... I had to go through it all to be alive.

Your Guruji had given you paaths to listen and to recite...

That’s correct... Mom used to play the tapes, even if there were days when I was very weak to recite the paaths myself.

You had to be hospitalised for the final cycle of chemotherapy... For how many days was that?

Five... By the end of it, I wanted to just get out of the hospital... I would have run away if a fourth cycle was necessary, even if it meant I’d die... I didn’t want to enter the hospital again.

But you did...

For a check-up, after a week.

How did you keep your mind off the chemotherapy during those five days in hospital?

(Grins) Played a prank on a friend, Paroon Chadha, who lives in the US... Watched Bend It Like Beckham... Look, I had to motivate myself, I had to stay positive.

Did you walk out on your own or leave in a wheelchair?

I think I was out on my feet, not that there weren’t days when I hadn’t been on a wheelchair.

Once back at the apartment, what did you do?

Relieved, I slept for an entire day... Chemotherapy disturbs your system and it takes some days to get back to normal.

Anil Kumble met you in Indianapolis, while Sachin Tendulkar did so in London, when you were on your way back home...

Kumble took a detour to visit me and that was touching... It was such a pleasant surprise and so motivating... His being there showed that he cared... Sachin became emotional and said ‘God is great’... He gave me a hug, saying he was proud of me.

Besides God and your Guruji, who are you thankful to?

So many... The BCCI, (Union) sports minister Ajay Maken, close friends like Sandeep Sharma and Nishant Arora... And, of course, the millions of well-wishers in India and overseas.

While in Indianapolis, inspiration Lance Armstrong sent you gifts...

Armstrong did... He sent a memo-pad, sent a recorded message... The way he beat (testicular) cancer is fascinating... For me, he’s a hero. As I’ve told you, I know nothing about the doping scandal.

YouWeCan, set up by your Foundation, has been inspired by Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation... Is it your second love, after cricket?

I’m passionate about it... It’s there to spread awareness about cancer and I hope to raise big funds like Livestrong Foundation does.

Today, you’re more religious, more positive and more disciplined. Just how much have you changed?

It’s not that I was indisciplined before. Had I been that, I wouldn’t have played international cricket for almost 12 years. As for being more positive and more religious, well, I’m trying to be a better and a stronger person.

Yuvi, the final one... What’s your message to those fighting cancer?

Don’t be scared... Be positive... Please don’t think that your life is about to end... Take the right advice and act as soon as you can... If there’s an issue in your system, don’t ignore it... Look at me, I never thought I’d get the chance to again play for India, but I’ve beaten cancer... God has given me this opportunity and my love for cricket has brought me back. I see this alone as a huge achievement... The experience has made me stronger (in the mind)... If you’re strong, then you automatically become a positive person. Cancer doesn’t mean that you’re going to die.