What a difference a year makes. This time 12 months ago Martin Crowe was a very unwell man.
Diagnosed three months earlier with the blood cancer lymphoma, the cricketing legend was about to start chemotherapy after a large tumour appeared in his abdomen. He was in extreme pain and he was scared.
“I knew it was going to be a long, hard five months [of treatment] and it was,” says Martin. “For the last month, all I could do was just lie there, pleading for it all to be over.”
Today he feels like a different person. He has just returned from a break at his bach with wife Lorraine Downes and their blended family, and is looking tanned, relaxed and healthy.
Best of all, recent tests show no sign of the tumour.
“It’s gone,” he smiles, clearly relishing being able to say those words as he sits in the sunshine on the deck of his Auckland home. “I had a scan done at the end of November that was 100% clear.”
The lymphoma, however, is still there. Martin describes the disease, which can be treated but not cured, as a “snake in the grass” that can lie still for a long time before raising its ugly head and causing problems.
He is living with it, and doing all he can to keep it at bay for as long as possible, including eating a healthy diet, exercising frequently, meditating to ward off stress and changing his attitude towards life.
And after what has been one of the toughest of the 51 years he’s spent on this planet, Martin is now able to look forward to what he feels will be an exciting new stage.
As well as feeling much healthier, Martin – who was made redundant from his job as an executive producer at Sky Television shortly before learning he had cancer – has launched a new business venture as a mentor. While he’s keen to use his experiences to coach people on everything from achieving good health and wellbeing through to flourishing in the corporate world, Martin is especially excited about the opportunity to mentor young people and sports players.
“I’ve been through so much myself and have finally gained an understanding and wisdom that I want to share with others so they don’t have to experience as many lows as I did,” he says. “I hear a lot of stories about young people out there who are on the same journey as me and I can relate to it so well. They need support, a lending hand, and I really feel I can make a difference.”
Martin wishes there had been someone to share their insights with him on how to cope with playing top-level sport when he found himself, at 15, playing for the Auckland under-23 cricket team alongside 22-year-olds, and then the New Zealand team at just 19 years old.
There was a lot of expectation placed on his young shoulders, and at times this proved too much, especially when he was unable to live up to what the coaches, selectors and cricket-watching Kiwi public thought he should achieve.
“I got lost in the mess and turned into a bit of a nightmare,” he says now.
Being the sort of person who is naturally prone to feeling he wasn’t good enough and fearing failure, he took things to heart and then buried those emotions.
But it did him no good – he wrote in his autobiographical book Raw, published last year, that he believes being resentful and holding on to this stress for many years eventually caused his cancer.
Martin had been having counselling, which helped him
realise he needed to deal with that stress because it was turning him into a person he did not like, but it was the cancer diagnosis in October 2012 that provided the biggest wake-up call.
“In many ways I am forever grateful for getting cancer, because it made me re-evaluate things. I had to make changes.”
The chemotherapy made him so sick that there was plenty of time to think about what he really wanted from life, and the kind of person he wanted to be.
“So for me, chemo was a blessing, as well as absolutely hellish,” he says, looking sombre for a moment as he recalls how the treatment made him so weak he could do little else but lie down.
That time to stop and think, along with the therapy he’s had, has helped him come to terms with many issues in his life and he’s keen to share those lessons.
Martin has already started working with some young students and one of the first things he does is help them understand who they are and what they believe in – something he struggled with.
“I lost touch with who my core being was. I led this masked life,” he says. “I stress that they stay grounded and keep an understanding of who they truly are. I encourage them to reveal their true character and build on it.
“One of the things I talk about with them is trying to tame expectation that is placed on them. A lot of what society throws at you is not necessarily what you truly want or aspire to. The demands that can be placed on these young people are overwhelming and they’re not prepared for them. And if it’s not really them, that’s when confusion starts to set in.
“When you focus on what you want, with proper help, then you get some clarity. That leads to what I call the path of fulfilment, which is where you want to be, rather than the path of frustration. I should know – I’ve been down them both!”
As well as drawing on his own experience, Martin has been learning how to mentor others through the New Zealand Coaching and Mentoring Centre, and has also been reading voraciously – absorbing as much as he can about subjects such as health and wellbeing, and human development.
“It is so good to be stimulated. It’s become a huge passion, and I’ve learned so much in the past year. In the previous decade I learned nothing, I just got stuck, and that’s also why I got unhealthy.”
He says one of the most important insights he has gained is that emotional pain is part and parcel of life. “Now I know that you can’t live life one-sided – it is not all about pleasure and happiness. You have to accept you will face a bit of pain. You also need to know how to deal with it. More than anything, I want to help people remove that confusion and pain quickly, when those hurdles come along, and use the experience as valuable feedback to improve one’s life.”
Martin also finds meditation has helped him enormously.
“People tend to scoff at meditation and don’t find time for it, yet it really helps to remove the negative chatter that fills up your head. It just involves sitting still for five or 10 minutes, two or three times a week – which costs you nothing – and it makes a big difference.”
He also encourages people to talk about their problems.
As well as getting assistance from professional therapists, Martin says the support he’s had from his loved ones has been vital.
“Lorraine has been incredible,” he smiles.
“And the insights she has… she has always talked about the importance of being true to yourself and that is one of the fundamental things that has come through to me.”
Meanwhile, his daughter Emma (10), from a previous relationship, has not only shown understanding and sensitivity way beyond her years, but has inspired Martin to make changes so he can be a better dad, as well as a better person.
“Being a good dad – and husband – is so important to me, and it has helped to keep me going.”
One thing Martin is very grateful for is realising when Emma was born that being a dad brought a whole host of extra responsibilities – including being financially stable. He took out income protection insurance, and says it is one of the best things he ever did.
“It gave me the opportunity to spend the past year having treatment and trying to get better without worrying about money. I could concentrate on getting well. They were amazing support.”
Now his new business is kicking off – his website, martincrowe.com has gone live – he can’t wait to help lots of people, but Martin accepts he will have to pace himself.
“I’ll have to go at my own speed – I’ve already had to learn that lifestyles can be adjusted.”
He admits that although he is feeling much better he doesn’t always feel on top of the world, physically or emotionally.
“I still have the odd days where I am down. Things suddenly hit me and there are times when I don’t have much energy. It’s good feedback.
“Now I am prepared so much better than ever before and I have more clarity. What I don’t have any more is resentment or fear, and all the confusion, the negative voices in my head that had followed me through my life, have gone.
“I feel like a different person to who I was, and I have a better understanding. It all comes down to looking for fulfilment, and being true to who you are. Now I just can’t wait to share that!”