For the past month and a half Yuvraj Singh and his mother Shabnam have been living in a three-room apartment in Indianapolis, the capital of Indiana State in the US. It is bitterly cold outside, with temperatures ranging from -1 to -5 degrees centigrade. The chill, which extenuates the feeling of loneliness, permeates inside the apartment, where one of India's finest cricketers is battling a cancer which the doctors say is on its way out of his system. It is news which brings much warmth to the mother-son duo and raises their hope of being back home in April.
"He has finished 6 weeks of chemotherapy and a recent re-assessment CT scan, when compared to his initial scan, has shown a significant reduction, confirming that we are on the right track," says his doctor Nitesh Rohatgi, who is a Senior Consultant, Medical Oncology, at the Max Hospital in Saket and is at present with Yuvraj in Indianapolis, assisting in his treatment.
There is more positive news from the doctor as he adds: "In our experience these tumours continue to shrink even after chemotherapy has finished and hence an early response is always reassuring. He will be restarting chemotherapy again in the next few days and once he recovers from that he will be back home."
The very idea of being home and resuming training so that he can reclaim his place in the India team is the inspiration and motivation that is keeping Yuvraj going, despite the acute side-effects of chemotherapy having dilapidated his strength.
Rajeev Suri, a close friend from Chandigarh, who was so disturbed by a phone conversation with him that he decided to make a trip to Indianapolis, says: "He appeared so depressed and lonely that I felt I must go and be with him." Suri is back in Chandigarh after spending a few days with Yuvraj and is happy that his friend is recovering and showing "remarkable strength to withstand the mental and physical pain brought about by the treatment and the very idea of suffering from what could have been a life-threatening disease".
Each cycle of chemo (six weeks finished so far) results in endless bouts of vomiting. "If he doesn't eat, the stomach cramps result in unbearable pain and when he eats he vomits," says Paroon Chadha, a software professional who lives in Indianapolis and met Yuvraj for the first time recently and is now a close friend.
He has seen the mood swings of the man in all their extremes and he is happy to narrate that the bouts of vomiting and depression don't last long. The gaps between the chemo sees "Yuvi joke around, trying to keep his mother Shabnam in good humour, follow India's cricketing fortunes and twitter his latest condition so that his fans get to know first hand what his condition is," he says.
A fine gesture
It can feel terribly lonely out there but when someone like Anil Kumble comes calling, it lifts the spirits. Kumble, who was on a visit to the West Coast, landed up without announcing, giving a pleasant surprise to his former team mate.
The former Indian captain stayed with them for a night, his gesture touching and inspirational. He told Yuvraj he was "here to express support from the Indian cricket community". He also narrated his own fight with a shoulder injury which could have resulted in Kumble never bowling again. "He told him that life is full of uncertainties and one should not give up, citing an example from his own life when he was all alone in South Africa where he underwent a shoulder surgery and was not sure if he could play for India ever again."
Still a hero
Another moment of extreme joy was when a couple of hundred students from a nearby university came to see him, bringing with them Indian food and gifts and getting him to sign on the back of their shirts. Yuvraj's sense of humour has not deserted him and at the end of their visit he told his mother, "Look, I am happy I have not forgotten my signature and can still give an autograph."
As he undergoes his third and last chemotherapy session, which began on Monday, all Yuvraj is hoping and praying for is one more chance to breathe easily and freely as he was doing before the extreme bouts of coughing made him realise he could be seriously sick. The freedom to breathe will also mean he can play for India again, his sole motivation in life today.