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Taking Guard Against Cancer

Times of India
21 May 2013

I stand for cancer awareness, because of what happened to me and what can be done for others

You know what feels great these days?
The ability to breathe without gasping for air every few minutes, each time I run between wickets. There was a time when I felt like I had half of a pair of lungs when, unknown to me, I had a tumour that had set up home in the cavity between my lungs – a tumour which would have probably killed me.

The thought of dying can be very frightening, and the possibility comes with its own set of questions about the future. I struggled with frustration, pain and doubt, in what was quite easily the biggest test of my life – my battle with cancer.

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Cancer survivors will understand this. It’s the stigma of the C-word that hits you first and I was no different. In fact, to be honest, many things hit me all at the same time. Selfdenial – how can this happen to me? I had to deal with both of them – the self-imposed stigma, and the fear of death. Thinking about those days in hospital brings back memories that I try to block out, even today.

I read a tweet the other day:
Dear cancer, someday I hope you’re just a zodiac sign. That’s what I hope for every day of my life now. Until that happens, however, we have to learn to fight back. When I meet people who are battling cancer, the first thing I say to them is, “Fight, and believe that you will beat it. The first step has to be yours – and that first step is to take guard.”

Yuvraj Singh

When I look back at my battle with cancer, I realise that I neglected the symptoms that something was wrong with my body. I was unable to breathe properly, and then eventually became unable to keep down anything I ate. Little drops of blood started to appear every time I threw up. Sheer fatigue started to overtake me. However, I ignored all these signs and carried on as if nothing was wrong. If I am alive today it is simply due to providence. I just got lucky. It was a bit like nicking the ball and then being dropped by a slip fielder.

Today, when I visit the various cancer screening camps that my cancer awareness NGO, YouWeCan, organises for cancer prevention, if there is one message I try to pass on to every person I meet, it is, to use an old cliché – prevention is better than cure, and that holds true for all kinds of cancer.

As a survivor of germ cell cancer, I know the kind of havoc cancer can cause when it settles down comfortably in your body, ready to attack and bring you to your knees. When I see people at our screening camps fighting cancer in its various devious forms, whether breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer or leukaemia, I see them as fellow travellers and comrades.

Recently, I was approached to be a part of a global conference on cervical cancer prevention. When I started doing my homework before attending this conference, what shocked me the most is how so little is being done when so much can be done.

Like any other Indian, I have been shocked by the recent events of gruesome violence against women. Today, as the entire country rallies behind its women, it is time to look beyond their physical safety and focus on their health as well.

How many of you have insisted that the woman in your house – be it your wife, your sister or your daughter – gets herself screened at least once a year for breast or cervical cancer? Why must a woman feel ashamed or scared of going to a hospital and asking for a mammogram or a pap smear?

What makes it worse is that there seems to be a certain stigma attached to cervical cancer. In fact, the moment you mention the words cervix and screening together – women will feel embarrassed and men, be it fathers or husbands, will shy away from the subject, simply because it is associated with sexual behaviour. This is the biggest mistake that is taking place in households across India, be it in the cities or villages.

The result of this lack of knowledge and awareness is that today more Indian women die of cervical cancer than breast cancer. In India, nearly 73,000 women die of cervical cancer every year with close to 1,35,000 cases being reported. And yet cervical cancer is the only cancer that can be prevented to a large extent through vaccination.

For all these years, cancer was something that happened to other people. When it happened to me, I realised I had become a part of the ‘other people’. Someone told me the other day – you are doing for cancer what Rock Hudson did for AIDS. But today cancer needs people like me, who are always in the public eye and are as a result listened to when they say they stand for a cause. My cause is cancer detection, awareness and de-stigmatisation. And I, Yuvraj Singh, am proud to stand for it and be counted.

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