WHEN I found out about Datuk Lee Chong Wei’s nose cancer two months ago, I was naturally shocked.
What the badminton great has been going through since July was an open secret within the Malaysian badminton fraternity and sports media.
It was Chong Wei’s wish that the matter be kept hush-hush – and the media showed solidarity in respecting his appeal.
Even top badminton opponents kept their lips sealed.
But as an international sports figure, it was only a matter of time before news of his health condition became public knowledge.
Unfortunately, it came via a viral posting that was inaccurate.
All Chong Wei wanted was some quiet time to recover with his loved ones by his side. Now, he has to deal with speculation, insensitive remarks and countless text messages.
Finally, an official statement was made over Chong Wei’s battle with early stage nose cancer and I’m glad he is taking it positively.
He understands the concerns of his fans and even asked them to pray for him.
In all the chaos, uncertainty and fear, one thing stood tall – Chong Wei’s courage and determination to fight this latest battle.
Surely, there were questions like “why me? Why now? What about my badminton career? What about my family?”
Just before he was diagnosed with cancer, the 35-year-old won his 12th Malaysian Open title – to the delight of his home fans at the Axiata Arena – by beating Kento Momota of Japan who went on to win the World Championships in August.
Chong Wei was super fit and was in his best form – and this raised hopes about his chances in two majors – the World Championships in Nanjing, China, and the Asian Games in Indonesia, also held in August.
It was at the Indonesian Open (after the Malaysian Open) that Chong Wei felt something amiss.
He felt overly tired during the second-round win over Anders Antonsen of Denmark.
Despite not being at his best, he went on to beat Thailand’s Kantaphon Wangcharoen in the quarter-finals before losing to Momota in the semis.
“I’ve never seen him like that before. He was so tired. He told me that something was wrong and he needed to go back home (after the semis defeat),” said his coach Hendrawan.
And after a visit to the doctor, Chong Wei was shocked beyond belief when he was told that he was suffering from nose cancer.
Then, he made arrangements to get treatment in Taiwan. The Badminton Association of Malaysia gave him full support.
There were difficult days for Chong Wei during the treatment but he always kept a positive outlook. And now that his treatment will be over this week, he is eyeing a comeback.
“I will come back soon kakak (sister). I will be back on the court. Don’t forget me,” Chong Wei said in a voice message to me.
It will take time for sure as he needs to rest and recuperate but knowing Chong Wei, I won’t be surprised to see this fighter back in action at the Academy Badminton Malaysia (ABM) at his usual court, sweating it out sooner than expected.
Footballers Jonas Gutierrez of Argentina (testicular cancer) and French defender Eric Abidal (tumour in liver) came out of it to continue playing competitively; American swimmer Eric Shanteau came out of cancer to win an Olympic gold medal in 2008; and cyclist Lance Armstrong, who was diagnosed with late-stage testicular cancer, came back to competitive action although doping charges ended his career.
Chong Wei is set to be another inspirational figure to make a similar return – I’ll bet my money on it!