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Yuvraj and his art of coping

Chapter 4: Shabnam Singh
Yuvi refused to believe that there was anything wrong with him. But whether this was pure optimism or he was in denial is a matter of conjecture. He continued to play and even went to England on a tour. But the finger injury forced him to come back home prematurely. At this point, he decided to go in for further treatment.

Shabnam Singh and Yuvraj
Yuvraj with mother Shabnam Singh during an event for the Yuvraj Singh Cancer Foundation in New Delhi on July 7. Pic/AFP

‘We went for further tests in October (2011), and the first biopsy showed that the tumour was malignant.’ ‘When we got to know that the tumour was malignant, Yuvi said to me, “Don’t worry, I’m going to come out of it.” I was totally stunned, speechless. The only thing that ran through my head was that this couldn’t be happening to me. I used to sit with him during his treatment, but sometimes I used to go away because it was very painful.’ Shabnam isn’t the kind to break down easily. She was once a state basketball player and had handled tough situations on the court. Now she quietly handled the crisis off it. She knew that pressing the panic button would only magnify the problem.

‘Even during this time of stress there was great self-belief, though people used to say all sorts of things. I can say that as a mother, it was at the back of my mind that this couldn’t happen to my son. Of course it used to bother me a lot, but I never let it take over my life. Never thought something was really wrong with him till the final test results came. He was recovering well, he was fine, and he kept his morale up. So we just let time pass by till the second report came.’

Being strong
Yuvi remained strong through this period and made sure that the illness interfered with his life as little as possible. When he went to England, he didn’t talk about his illness. Not only did he hide the possibility of cancer from the rest of the world, he hid it from himself too. ‘He kept saying that he was feeling
good. He only told me that he had difficulty while breathing. It affected him, but it wasn’t so much at that time. Somehow, he managed. He never complained to me,’ says Shabnam. Yuvi stayed focussed on the game. Even when the doctors told him to relax, he didn't want to do so. Shabnam remembers that he kept saying, “When can I get on the field, when can I start playing?” But once he realised how serious the illness was, he understood that he needed to get fully fit and then come back. Half-measures weren’t possible.’

No one knew Yuvi had been diagnosed with a rare germ cell cancer till Shabnam decided to make it public many months later, towards the end of 2011. People were shocked at the news, and especially at the fact that it had been hidden for so long and Yuvi had been playing international cricket all this while. There was just one reason behind not telling anyone about it earlier. ‘Yuvi himself didn’t believe that he was not well,’ Shabnam says. So the cricketer who was always in the spotlight and whom the media and critics alike had termed flamboyant and easygoing, had been suffering all this while, and silently. It is ironic that we see only the part of the star that shines.

Being diagnosed with a disease as deadly as cancer would come as a shock to anyone at any point in life. In Yuvi’s case, it got to him when his career had finally reached its pinnacle at the World Cup, when it seemed as though things could only get better. No one knows the pain of this better than
Shabnam.  It is said that the mother feels the pain every time a child is hurt. One can imagine how much pain this mother has gone through as her superstar son was overnight turned into a patient fighting for his life. Only Yuvi and those close to him know how difficult it was, with the word ‘cancer’ hovering over every conscious moment. Even when the cancer was confirmed and his treatment began, Yuvi remained calm and firm.

He gained strength and inspiration from his well wishers. Yuvi might have absorbed the pain, but it was visible on the mother’s face. The days of chemotherapy were the most traumatic. She felt dizzy just looking at the number of needles that were thrust into her son’s body. But Yuvi would calmly tell her to relax. He would assure her that he was fine. At other times he would just keep quiet, not uttering a word; sometimes he joked and smiled.

A child again...
Shabnam recalls how difficult it was to get Yuvi into a taxi and to the hospital. Since they stayed in a hotel during the first stage of chemotherapy, she couldn’t cook for him. But for the second chemo, they moved into an apartment. Shabnam would be busy all day trying to make him feel better. She woke him up, fed him and cleaned his bed and room. Though Yuvi could hardly swallow anything, she kept trying to cook different dishes for him. He would throw up whatever he ate.

He was like a child again. He would make a fuss about taking his medicines. He was cranky. He would not let Shabnam stay away from him for too long. Afraid of the world, he looked to her for comfort and stability. He tried to hide his suffering from her, but when he couldn’t control it, he cried in her lap.
It must be said here that from a very young age, the distance between his parents, their troubled marriage and subsequent separation had added to Yuvi’s anxieties. Yograj Singh thinks that the problem with his son has been his lax attitude, his uncontrolled behaviour and his unrestricted social life.

But Shabnam thinks that her son does enough of what he is supposed to do. ‘I had never felt that there was a time or need to control him. He is a good boy, and he has been listening to us. Fortunately we have our Guruji in Punjab, and Yuvi listens to whatever he says. We have a very good guiding force, and we are grateful to God for it. Even during his illness, all the guidance was from Guruji. I don’t guide him, it is Guruji who does it. So I never felt the need to control him.’

Shabnam never doubted her son’s courage or his determination to overcome his illness. Nor does she doubt his ability to make a comeback. ‘He can go to any extreme if you need him to. He is a tough boy. He is very determined,’ she says. Shabnam must have died a hundred deaths during Yuvi’s illness and treatment. But she is a loving mother, and incredibly brave. Instead of fussing over Yuvi's condition and causing him more distress, she decided to be his strength. She became the rock on which Yuvi could rest and rise.  

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