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You can live with cancer... Stay positive, says Boycott

- A Telegraph Exclusive

- High-profile survivor on life after illness

Calcutta: Geoffrey Boycott, now 72, is an oral cancer survivor. On Thursday afternoon, he spoke to The Telegraph at the Eden.

Boycott, incidentally, is the president of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

The following are excerpts

Q What was your first reaction on being told you had cancer?

A That I’m probably going to die... A lot of people die, even after trying all the treatment. Only a percentage survive.

You felt a lump on the left side of the neck while shaving...

Yes, it was during the 2002 tour of England by India... The players had come over for lunch the previous day... I was feeling fine and had no symptoms... It just happened... Cancer can strike anybody. I saw the doctor(s) within the next day-and-a-half and life changed.

What did the many months of treatment teach you?

I drew inspiration from Chris Woollams’ CANCERactive, a complementary cancer charity. I learnt to stay positive... I keep taking tablets — I carry a handful all the time — and I keep sipping water as my salivary glands have gone. Chris doesn’t have the cure for cancer, but his website tells you a lot of things you can do to help yourself. Basically, CANCERactive tells you everything you need to know to beat cancer... I’ve done a charity event for them and that dinner at Lord’s raised 40,000.

But you may still lose the battle...

You could. You may not beat cancer, but you can live with it... Cancer is like a death sentence... So, stay positive.

Have you beaten cancer?

I don’t think anybody can say that he/she has beaten it... Of course, it’s possible to get cured, but I don’t think anybody in the right mind can say that cancer won’t come back. There’s no guarantee but, if after five years you don’t get it again, then there’s a 99 per cent chance you’re going to be all right.

You’ve gone through quite a bit...

Touch wood, I’m fine now... Certain things are not good for cancer... Too much sugar, too much stress... But we’re all stressed... The man on the street trying to earn a living, the rich man who is trying to make more and more money... In the modern world, how can you not be stressed? You can’t change who or what you are, but you can begin to look at life a little differently.

Do you still undergo check-ups?

No. If I get any symptoms, then I’ll have to quickly see the doctor(s).

At one time, there was this fear that you could lose your vocal cords...

I didn’t worry that I may not be able to continue as a commentator, I was worried about possibly not being able to communicate at all... We take many things for granted... Talking, hearing... But if you take any of those things away for a week, you would see how difficult it is... You would see how difficult life is. Fortunately, I have been left with no salivary glands only, the result of many sittings of laser treatment.

Today, what worries you?

That more and more people are getting cancer... I know they are finding more and more ways to try and help people, but you’re just trying to catch up all the time... The thing about cancer is that it doesn’t recognise any boundary... Anybody can get it... In the past year, so many cricketers have got it... From Yuvraj Singh to Martin Crowe to Tony Greig to Robin Jackman... The well-known Christopher Martin-Jenkins also has cancer... I never smoked, had wine occasionally... You could have a good life, a clean life, yet, there’s no guarantee you won’t have cancer. The detection has to be quick. That’s important.

Yuvraj has made a splendid recovery...

I had mixed feelings when I heard of his illness... I was hoping he’d make a comeback, but I wasn’t sure... I didn’t have his email address, so I’d emailed his mother (Shabnam), offering help... I didn’t get a reply, but that was fine... Like me, Yuvraj has got a second life... Now, he only needs to play better in Test cricket.

Have you been in touch with, say, Greig?

I know he’s had lung surgery and a portion of his lower lung has been removed.

You’ve talked about looking at life differently...

Yes... You begin to think that you’re lucky (to be alive). Sometimes you may ask ‘hey, does it really matter’? When things aren’t going well or things aren’t good, you have to say to yourself ‘listen, I’m alive... I could have been climbing into a wooden box’.

Your illness brought you closer to your near and dear ones... You married Rachael, your partner for many years... What do you have to say?

We did marry, in February 2003... Look, you need someone to help you get through it all... When cancer comes and the treatment begins, you need a friend... You need someone close to help you, for you can’t think straight... Indeed, you need somebody to think for you.

The last one... What’s your message to those who have cancer?

(Passionately) Start the treatment as quickly as you can... The quicker it begins, the better your chances of survival... Stay positive, think that you’ll keep giving it your best shot... Tell yourself ‘I’m gonna try like hell’... You may die, but sure as hell you will, if you don’t give it your best shot. The treatment can get really rough, but try and stay upbeat. Please.