Lee Chong Wei beats cancer and is back on the badminton court after "nightmare treatment"

"I couldn't speak or eat" - Joy and relief as Malaysian shuttle star Lee Chong Wei returns to training after cancer all-clear.

By Sanjeev Palar

It's official.

Lee Chong Wei has won his battle against cancer and is back on the badminton court.

Diagnosed with early stage nose cancer in September 2018, Lee underwent "nightmare treatment" in Taiwan that took away his ability to speak and eat.

But 2019 has started in the best way possible with a cancer all-clear from his doctors in Taiwan.

Lee Chong Wei's New Year Resolution: "Play more badminton"

A festive season brought the greatest gift of all to the 4-time Olympian: a clean bill of health.

Lee celebrated at home with his wife and two young sons.

Now back in rehab and training after winning the most important match of his life, Lee has simple goals for 2019.

"My wife broke the news, my badminton bag slipped, I started crying too"

Chong Wei knew something was wrong way back in the middle of 2018.

He just didn't know how wrong.

A check-up in July hardly broke Lee's rhythm: hours and hours on the badminton court perfecting the skills that have brought him three Olympic silver medals.

It was after one of these sessions that he received the worst news of his life at 36 years old.

His wife was waiting, the doctors had called her.

"She came towards me, hugged me and cried. I knew it was bad news. 'It's nose cancer', she said", Chong Wei told Malaysian newspaper The Star.

"My badminton bag slipped from my grasp and I started to cry too. I slumped on the sofa crying and asked why it had to be me."

"Nightmare" Cancer Treatment

No. 1 in the world for 199 consecutive weeks between 2008 and 2012, Lee is a megastar in Malaysia.

With his every move watched, scrutinised, and published in the Malaysian press, Lee didn't go public with his cancer diagnosis until September.

He wanted to focus on what really mattered: getting better.

Taiwan was chosen as the place for his treatment as fears were that the news would be leaked in China and Japan and South Korea presented language problems.

33 sessions of photon therapy were prescribed.

The radiation left the former No.1 at his lowest point.

"By the third week, it had taken a toll on my throat. I could not speak or eat," he told AFP in December.

"I'm just so glad that the worst is over now."

"Do you want me to retire?"

In November Lee announced a press conference and rumours flew, speculation flooding social media that Malaysia's most celebrated athlete was about to end his career.

Far from it.

"A lot of people were speculating that this was going to be a press conference to announce your retirement. How do you feel about that?", asked a reporter in the packed press room.

"You want me to retire?", joked Lee, filling the room with laughter.

His commitment to his sport, and to playing for his country. was never in question, and he wasn't going to just quit in the face of adversity.

Now an already storied career may get even more impressive.

Stellar career

The Malaysian great has spent a lifetime challenging Chinese sovereignty over the sport of badminton.

Lee reached three Olympic finals, taking silver at Beijing 2008, London 2012, and Rio 2016. He lost to superstar shuttler Lin Dan twice in Beijing and London, and Chen Long at Rio 2016.

An outsider who demands the best from opponents, within touching distance of ultimate glory at three different Olympic Games.

He hasn't always finished second either.

12 Malaysia Open titles, five Commonwealth Games titles, two Asian Championships, and three silver medals at World Championships, the list goes on.

Lee counts 705 wins and 134 losses overall, including 69 international titles.

And all of that without the resources or financial support of the Chinese production line of talent.

His career hasn't been controversy free.

In 2015 the 36-year-old was given an eight-month ban for a doping violation.

He was stripped of his 2014 World Championships silver medal, but the ruling stated that Lee had no intent to cheat and allowed him to resume his career.

History in the making at a 5th straight Olympics?

Determined and defiant on his return to rehab and training, Lee insists that he wants to compete at Tokyo 2020.

"I really want to go for one more Olympics to make it my fifth consecutive appearance," said Chong Wei.

It's hard to doubt him.

"No athlete from Malaysia has ever competed five times at the Olympics and I want to create history. It's not an easy feat to make it to five Olympics, that's equivalent to 20 years!" - Lee Chong Wei told Badminton World Federation .

On the BWF website, his burning ambition is clear:

"The Olympic gold medal".

After six months away from the game Lee has slipped to 28th in the BWF World Rankings and that dream looks more unlikely than ever.

Luckily he's not afraid of a fight and has time before Tokyo 2020.

For now, Malaysia and the wider world of badminton are just happy enough to see him back on court.