S-League player Adrian Dhanaraj ready to fight Hodgkin's lymphoma

Gombak hardman Dhanaraj ready to fight for his life with new tactics

THIS morning, at 9am, Gombak United footballer Adrian Dhanaraj is set for another big match. Only it will not take place on any pitch, but at Gleneagles Hospital.

The battle is against Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer of the white blood cells. And the prize is his life.

"The first 10 sessions of chemotherapy didn't work entirely," he told The Straits Times yesterday. "It's time to look at other alternatives."

Dhanaraj, who earned two caps for Singapore in 2010 against Vietnam and North Korea, will, starting today, undergo five sessions of high-dose chemotherapy over five days before receiving a stem cell transplant.

The stem cells were harvested from his bone marrow on Monday. He is expected to remain in hospital for the next six weeks.

"There's still a good chance, about 70 per cent, that I can be completely cured," said Dhanaraj, who stopped playing for Gombak once he was diagnosed. Although the club are no longer in the S-League, they are honouring his two-year contract.

"The very first time I found out that I had cancer was much harder to take. I woke up on the morning of my birthday and felt so healthy. Before I knew it, I was going for chemotherapy."

His life changed on Sept 3, 2012, his 28th birthday. The joy of the occasion was dampened when he felt a lump in his neck.

That was eventually diagnosed as cancer.

But Dhanaraj is not a man who holds back on or off the pitch.

The midfielder, who has also played for Geylang United, Singapore Armed Forces FC and the Young Lions, has a reputation as a hard tackler.

Threatened by cancer, he launched himself into a bout of chemotherapy to give the disease the boot. Although the pain was inevitable, to Dhanaraj, the suffering was optional as he insisted on living his life to the full.

Twice a day, he pumped iron to keep his body toned. Sandwiched in between was a 5km run that gave him a sense of normality despite his illness.

In addition, he appeared regularly on mio TV's English Premier League chat show called Tiger It's Your Shout. And the diploma holder is studying for a communications degree at UniSIM.

His aim is to return to football after his treatment before becoming a physical education teacher.

Just last week, he summoned the energy to submit two projects.

However, after 10 sessions of chemotherapy, doctors still found two cancerous specks in his body - one in his heart and the other in his diaphragm. And the anti-cancer drugs injected into his system have taken their toll.

"I can't drive, I feel tired, I'm still at the same weight (75kg) but my muscles are now lax and my hair is gone," he said.

The veins in his arms have also thinned to the extent that drugs will now have to be administered through a tube inserted into his chest.

Although his condition has deteriorated, his father, Peter, has nothing but admiration for his pride and joy. The 61-year-old retired army warrant officer said: "This is just like football. Adrian is going to play in a final and he will never give up.

"My son has always been a very positive person. He's a fighter and he is going to recover."

And Dhanaraj is pinning his hopes that the stem cell transplant will help him score the winning goal in his fight.

He said: "The stem cell transplant is basically hitting my body's reset button. My red and white blood cells will die after the intense chemotherapy and the stem cells will help to regenerate the blood cells."

But he still sees light in his darkest moments as he quipped: "A stem cell transplant is the creme de la creme of cancer treatments. At least I'm fighting cancer in style."

meng@sph.com.sg