Smart choices How Geoff Boycott bowled a googly at cancer.

Smart choices  How Geoff Boycott bowled a googly at cancer.

When Geoff Boycott discovered he had cancer and heard that he would never talk on radio or TV again, one of the people he first turned to was icon editor Chris Woollams, who helped him build his Integrative Programme. Here is an update on Geoff’s story, written by Madeleine Kingsley.

13 years after a pretty brutal brush with cancer, the legendary cricketer and commentator, Geoffrey Boycott, credits his survival to the complementary care that supported his vital orthodox treatments. ‘My wife Rachael and I both think that without the whole package – the healthy eating, the detoxing, de-stressing, the supplements and feng shui - I would have died.  Cancer’s a terrible affliction, and the type I had is a death sentence for many people. Throat cancer is usually a disease of heavy smokers and drinkers, but contrary to people’s stereotypical view of bluff, hard-living Yorkshiremen, I have never drunk a pint of beer, not even a lager and lime, in my life. I have never smoked a cigarette. But what good would it have been to cry in the words of Shakespeare ‘Woe is me!’ ‘Why Me? How could I be so unlucky? When you’re possibly, or probably, going to die from cancer, you search around, open-mindedly, for what will help you survive. You think ‘What the hell am I going to do? You have to get on and deal with your situation in a positive, forward-looking way.’

Geoffrey would never pretend that his diagnosis was a breeze to bear. ‘It hits you hard. You’re in distress. You’re going to sit down and cry for a couple of days, no doubt about that. But then you go looking for help, which a lot of people gave me, starting with Chris Woollams.  Someone sent me his book ‘Everything You Need to Know to Help you Beat Cancer’, which was brilliant, simple and easy to understand, unlike other guides, which read like text books, and were hard to digest for the ordinary person whose head is in a whirl. I rang him up.

‘Chris’s first piece of advice was for me to get a buddy, and my wife Rachael took that role, reading everything she could, and working out the best plan for me. She became my brains and my rock, because when you are ill like that, you can’t think straight. We had a local girl. Stacey, from Pickering, come in for two or three days to teach us a different way of cooking from scratch, and Chris stressed that I needed to detox and he particularly felt that I’d picked up a parasite when touring. Chris told me what supplements to take while I was having my treatment and I still talk to him every few months about the minerals and vitamins I should take to help keep the cancer from coming back.’

Without turning his healthy maintenance programme into a punishing religion, Geoffrey, at 74 still travelling the world with his inimitable cricket commentary, focuses on smart lifestyle decisions. His daily cocktail of supplements includes Co Q10, cod liver oil, astragalus, echinacea, cat’s claw, garlic capsules, curcumin and Revenol.  ‘If I miss the odd capsule, it’s not the end of the world, but I’m aware that these supplements help the body to help itself.  He and Rachael try to maintain the Hay diet, separating carbs and proteins, and avoiding refined processed foods. ‘I’m intolerant to dairy’ Geoffrey acknowledges, but if, occasionally, I have a bit of cream with fruit salad, that’s not going to make me ill. It’s the build up in the body I avoid. I used to drink loads of tea with milk, but now I drink green tea, spoiling myself every now and then with a coffee in the morning.  Out in New Zealand, I’ll sometimes sit outside in a café and enjoy what they call a flat white. I’m not going to make a fetish about dairy, or destroy my life. Total Prohibition is a load of bxxxxxks!’ 

‘Stress and sugar’ says Geoffrey ‘are the two major enemies of anyone trying to avoid a recurrence. Of course, we all have stress in our lives, and I continue to work, which means a great deal of travel. But when I’ve finished the day’s test match now, I don’t rush out for dinner and stay out late. I go back to my hotel and watch TV or read a book. I’ve been talking and meeting people all day – that’s my job. So I won’t knock myself about any more in the evening.  I also have to be careful to rest my voice which can now be a bit sore by the end of the day – I was lucky to avoid the surgery that could have damaged my larynx, but after the treatment,  my salivary glands no longer work so I’m  always sipping water. I could pee for England!’

Master Li, the Feng Shui expert continues to visit the Boycott’s home once a year, surveying the house with the family’s astrological charts in his hands. ‘I loved our old house in Wakefield, with its running water feature, its peace and quiet, but after two or three years, Master Li said that its energy had done it all could for me. It was time to move. In the new house in Boston Spa, Master Li asks us to keep a light on at the top of the stairs 24/7, as this is the health point of our home.  He advises on the optimum direction to sleep in – ‘for instance’ says Geoffrey ‘ when I was really ill I slept in a single bed with my head facing South East. Then, the following January we moved to another room facing North East. Even now it’s amazing how much better Rachael feels she sleeps when she’s facing the right way. You wake up fresher and you can do more. Feng shui holds that you heal as you sleep, and that makes so much sense. Master Li also likes running water, so we have a small water feature in the house, and also a protective pair of Chinese foo dogs outside the door. -  a manifestation of yin and yang.  Master Li does have an extraordinary ability – a few years ago he told my daughter she would have an operation the following year.  Rachael was taken aback, but he assured her that it would be minor surgery, though Emma would definitely need it.  As he predicted, Emma did indeed have her tonsils taken out.’

A newspaper review of Geoffrey’s book found it strange that such a grounded, gritty sportsman should put his faith in an ancient Chinese harmonising system. But Geoffrey is always open-minded ‘China has been going a lot longer than most civilisations, and many years ago, when they started to stick needles in parts of your body to cure ailments elsewhere, people said it was poppycock. Now we call it acupuncture, and millions believe it cures them or helps them to better health. Following my radio- and chemotherapy which were hopefully going to destroy the tumours, but also damaged good cells, my immune system was rock bottom. I had my spleen removed when I was very young, which had already weakened my immune system.  So we found an acupuncturist in Chesterfield, and I went there as often as I could. I found it brilliant. No sooner had he put the needles in than I went out like a light.’

Geoffrey’s faith in his complementary treatments do not in any way detract from his appreciation for his oncologist, the ‘frank and feisty Catherine Coyle. Miss Coyle was delightful, strong and firm with me, which I needed’ he recalls. ‘I don’t do wishy washy- and if I was going next month, ‘ he jokes ‘then I wanted her to tell me – so that I could go off and find Kim Basinger before I went…Rachael said I was allowed – for a  night. I said “I’m not coming back. I’m going for the week!” Even at the very worst of my treatment Rachael and I would find a way to laugh. You’ve got to. Laughter is the best possible medicine.  Miss Coyle warned her illustrious patient that the effects of treatment would be grim – she wanted to give him the most aggressive dosage of radiotherapy that she thought he could stand – 70, rather than the 50 or 60,which is more usual in the UK. ‘At my worst’ Geoffrey recalls’ I was burned all over my cheeks, neck and upper chest. The pain was unbelievable - so intense that instead of the normal morphine patch on your arm, I had three.’

How did Miss Coyle respond to his adjuvant treatments? ‘I think she was ok with it all. Deep down, I think specialists are trained in a certain way -that you have surgery, radio or chemo and that’s the route they follow.  But Miss Coyle never pooh-poohed it or spoke negatively in any way. Perhaps she was slightly sceptical, but all she asked was that I told her exactly what I was doing and taking, which I always did. ‘

Geoffrey still has the heavy duty Perspex mask that he had to wear when radiotherapy was delivered to his head and neck.  It’s a curious souvenir, given that, for years, after recovering, he managed to forget much of his grim experience. ‘When I came to write the book, Rachael had to remind me of the detail’ he says. ‘I had, for instance, completely forgotten that I was supposed to walk – not run – during treatment, but that Rachael was anxious about me trudging down to the village in the icy November and December of 2002 in case I slipped or fainted. So, wrapped up in hat and scarf against the cold, I would do 30 laps of the tennis court until I’d walked a mile, while Rachael kept watch through the kitchen window.’

For Geoffrey Boycott there is great good reason to look forward now, not back. His daughter Emma, a lawyer turned events organiser, recently became engaged.  So there will be a bridal daughter to walk down the aisle in the foreseeable future – very possibly, for the now healthy and vigorous Geoffrey Boycott, his all-time, finest innings.


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