Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White has reached six world snooker championship finals – and lost them all. Yet he remains the game’s most popular player.
And, healthwise, he has faced testicular cancer -and won. Born in a prefab in Balham, South-West London, Jimmy, 39, and his Irish wife Maureen, 40, have five children. They now live in Surrey.
Here Jimmy speaks about his health.
Everything happened so quickly. In fact, I was seeing my GP for a routine checkup for insurance purposes and only mentioned it as an afterthought. ‘By the way,’ I said, ‘I have got a bit of a lump…’
Drying myself after a shower, I’d felt it on my left testicle. If it had been a woman doctor I might not have said anything about it at all.
But my GP is a young man – a nice guy. He sent me to a private clinic next day where a surgeon examined me and said: ‘Don’t have anything to eat for 12 hours. I’ll see you tomorrow for the operation.’
My composure went completely when they broke the news. I thought: ‘I have a wife and young children.’ I was in tears. I love life. No one wants to die, do they?
For almost 24 hours I didn’t tell anyone, even Maureen. I know I should have told her before. But sometimes you don’t like to worry people.
Finally I had to tell her, in case I didn’t survive the surgery. There’s always a small chance. But fortunately she is very strong. And when they operated – at Ashstead Hospital, only four miles or so from my home – to remove the testicle, they discovered two malignant growths.
I spent a couple of days in bed and then I was playing snooker again six or seven days later.
That was in March 1995. Now my son
Tommy Tiger, who was born three years later, is living proof that you can not only survive with one testicle but also that everything is still in working order.
Yet if I hadn’t casually mentioned it to my GP I wouldn’t be speaking to you – or anyone – now.
No one really knows what caused it. It could have been stress related. Whatever the answer, I’m taking no chances – and nor are the doctors. I have three-monthly check-ups at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton.
Testicular cancer occurs in young men, just the people who don’t bother much about their health. Women check their breasts as a matter of course in the shower and encourage their daughters to do the same. Young men must check themselves, too. I do every time I have a shower now.
And I’d advise men who find a lump to see their GP immediately. It’s better to get diagnosed early because then less treatment is needed. In the space of those three years my brother Martin was diagnosed with lung cancer. Not long afterwards I discovered I had testicular cancer. And just over a year after Martin died, at the age of 52, we lost my mum, too.
Meanwhile, on and off for ten years, my brother Tommy, 55, has been fighting lymphoma. Scary, isn’t it?
Still, Dad is in excellent health. At 82, he looks 20 years younger. As for me, I am just happy to take life one day at a time with my family – Lauren, 20, Ashleigh, 13, Georgia, 12, Breeze, 11, and Tommy Tiger, who is nearly three.
But, of course, to be a good snooker player you have to look after yourself – and your hands. So I don’t do DIY and I’m working out at the gym to get ready for the new season in August.
I’m 5ft 11in and 13st. Ideally I’d like to get down to 11st and cut down on the boozing. As it is, I don’t drink beer now. I stick to wine or champagne. Otherwise I drink a lot of bottled water. I sleep well, too, and dream about the game.
Normally, I have a good appetite and I’m not allergic to anything – except the tax man.
But snooker is therapeutic; a great game for switching off your problems. You have to give it 100pc concentration.
Over the years I have been in a lot of trouble but I’ve always managed to switch off and play. To be honest, most of my troubles – bankruptcy, drinking, gambling – were self-inflicted.
But cancer is one thing I can’t blame myself for. I am just a very, very lucky guy to have caught it in time. Either way, it has worked wonders for my snooker.
In the past I’d lose and not talk for a few days. I’d become strange. Difficult to live with. Now I am totally different. I have a new perspective on life and I am less stressed. I’m mellower, really relaxed. It takes a lot to upset me.
Some people take the view that I’m too laid back. Yet it’s how I feel. OK, snooker is important to me because it’s my career. But after cancer it’s only a game.