March 13, 2014

Poonam Chaturvedi - India's national champion with Chhattisgarh - has brain tumour


Three months ago, an 18-year-old Indian girl was diagnosed with a brain tumour. The misfortune by itself is a shocking revelation for any individual and their family, particularly considering the young age, but this case is of special interest to us.

That's because this 18-year-old is Poonam Chaturvedi, India's tallest female basketball player, a rising star in India's Women's national squad, and most-recently, the winner of India's national basketball championship with Chhattisgarh. According to The Indian Express, the 6-foot-8 Chaturvedi was diagnosed with a 'mild form of' brain tumour three months ago, but she has continued to play through it.

Born in Kanpur, UP, but adopted by Coach Rajesh Patel's excellent Chhattisgarh basketball programme, Chaturvedi first shot into national consciousness almost four years ago at the Youth National Championship in Nagpur. She was still struggling with the pace and tactics of basketball back then, but in the next few years, she improved dramatically to become a mainstay in India's junior teams and Chhattisgarh.

Chaturvedi was the star of India's U18 girls' squad last year which won silver at the FIBA Asia U18 3x3 championship. She was utterly dominant at the Junior National Championship in September in Cuttack, averaging a scintillating 46 points per contest through the course of the tournament including 43 points and 19 rebounds in the Final to help Chhattisgarh win the tournament. A few months ago, Chaturvedi led Chhattisgarh to victory at the Federation Cup in Ahmedabad with 30 points in the Final against Maharashtra.

Chhattisgarh's biggest moment came last week, as they shocked the Indian basketball world by defeating Indian Railways to win the National Championship in New Delhi. Chaturvedi played a crucial role in the tournament to defend the post against the likes of Geethu Anna Jose and more of India's best players through the course of the tournament.

But the championship, as Shivani Naik of Indian Express wrote in her recent interview with Chaturvedi, has been the only high point for the player over the last few months. Chaturvedi complained of suffering long spells of excruciating headaches during the tournament, but still continued to train and play with her team. She would've also suffered from more fatigue than usual, which is a common complaint among people diagnosed with brain tumour.

Although it's surprising at first that Chaturvedi was participating in high-level basketball competition despite her diagnosis, it is said that some form of exercise - from mild to intense depending on advice of the physical therapist - is actually helpful. In her paper, ‘Brain Tumors and Fatigue’, Nancy Conn-Levin wrote that inactivity actually increases levels of fatigue for brain tumour patients. But she also wrote about the importance of energy conservation and stress management, both of which are difficult while playing national-level basketball. In another presentation by Alyssa Tennenbaum, the author suggested that exercise actually helps to keep the immune system strong, but should be stopped at warning signs like shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, lightheadedness, or intense fatigue. Of course, if she continues to play through this in the future, Chaturvedi has to manage her nutrition and rest, too.

As for her treatment, Chaturvedi's family is considering treatment centers in either Delhi or Bangalore for the 18-year-old. The Indian Express reported that the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) has promised to bear her medical expenses while the Bhilai Steel Plant in Chhattisgarh where she works will also chip in.

"When I’m not in pain, basketball is my life. Otherwise it’s very bad," Chaturvedi told the Indian Express reporter, "I wish it would get over and I could return to playing without fear."

We wish nothing but good health to the young star. If she recovers in time, she will surely play a major role in India's U18 squad at the U18 FIBA Asia Championship in October this year. Her country and team needs her talents, but more than that, her family and friends need her to be healthy and fully cured, and we wish them all the best in the treatment ahead.

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