"I have been a fighter all my life. Cancer was the truest test of my mojo and determination to overcome hurdles."
Youth icon and respected Indian cricketer, Yuvraj Singh, who shot to international fame when he played for India. His game technique and enthusiasm won him millions of fans. But, one diagnosis changed his life. He discovered in 2011 that he was battling cancer.
Yuvraj says that when when one is at the top of their form and are so driven that they don’t even imagine that anything can knock them down. But, life throws its ugly surprises and how you face those moments proves your mettle. In Yuvraj’s case, he emerged victorious by his sheer will and of course, family support. We spoke to this resilient sportsperson about his fight against cancer and how he bounced back.
What was your first reaction when you were diagonsed with cancer. What treatments did you undergo?
There has been a series of ups and downs in life, but never has it affected my spirit to strive harder and bounce back stronger. Cancer struck me when I was playing the World Cup 2011. I felt excruciating pain in my chest one day and started vomiting blood during tournament. I did not take it seriously at first. I was completely geared towards lifting the trophy for my team and my country. We won the World Cup. But, things got worse. I later found out that I had lung cancer. But, I did not let my mental strength come down and immediately left for the US for treatment.
Did you have a breakdown? What rescued you?
By grace of God, I was playing World Cup, which did not allow me a chance for a breakdown. I did not have time to break down. Also, I did not know the gravity and specifics of my health condition, so I was still taking it easy. At that point in time, I was playing the best cricket of my life and was in best form. Even after I got the news, I knew I will recover successfully. But, at times when one is treated for cancer, there are multiple thoughts that swirl in mind and they have no roots in facts. It is those thoughts you have to fight as they can really impact confidence. In those situation, only your family, close friends, love from fans and grace of God can rescue you.
You mother has been a pillar of strength for you. What is the importance of family support for someone battling with a life threatening disease?
Absolutely. My mother is my strongest pillar of strength. Whatever values I have is because of her. After cancer detection, it was she who patted my back and told me that I was still the best. I believe, during the lows of life it is only your family that stands by you, unconditionally, and motivates you to rise up and live again. To me, family matters a lot. Without their indelible support I would not be Yuvraj, the achiever that you know of. The credit goes to them.
How did you feel when you were informed that you could resume playing
During treatment, I stayed out of professional cricket, which was a long while. So, when I heard I could resume cricket, I was very emotional, happy and overwhelmed. I thanked all my doctors and the entire team that worked towards my recovery. The doctors had initially told me it will take me two years to recover. But, I knew I could reduce the time span. And I was back to training within six months. Once on field, I felt like the child that gets his cricket kit for the very first time and can’t wait to play.
How have you, as a person, and your life in the public eye changed since?
As a cricket fan, we do not see diminished vigour, enthusiasm, sportsmanship and style. I don’t think my overall personality has changed at all. I stick to my basic values at all times. My enthusiasm and sportsmanship stays up as I keep myself motivated. In public life, I am now more inclined towards sharing my experiences. I love interacting with children, who aspire to become athletes. Post my recovery, I wanted to talk about cancer and the need to overcome the stigma attached to it.
What fitness regime do you follow?
My current fitness regime is very different from what I followed when I started off with my career. Previously it was strength and conditioning, whereas now I have amalgamated weight training with cross training. I also innovate on workout methods and take up those that my body can adapt to. Also, over the last four years, I have had a lot of running regimes both long distance and short bursts. I love running for one more reason. It helps declutter my mind and push negative thoughts out of my system.
What tips would you like to give those battling cancer to stay motivated?
I would say don’t let it get in the way of living your dreams. I am constantly motivated by billions of my fans, who cheer for my team and I. When you fight cancer, your family support matters a lot. Collective support will lead you to your win. And this what YouWeCan Foundation works towards... supporting cancer patients.
Do you think the need to remain fit is of utmost important for youth?
Yes. Youth today are aware of the importance of fitness. They do not indulge in things that would hamper their body. I believe uoung people must cultivate the habit of staying fit and start doing it early on. If fitness is a motto to be taken up at a later stage of life, it becomes harder for the body to adapt. Most importantly, fitness is about mental strength too.