India raucously cheered for Dingko Singh when he won a boxing gold at the Asian Games in Bangkok in 1998, and the 19-year-old Manipuri boy came home to an Arjuna Award, a government job and the gift of a three-bedroom home in Imphal, followed by a Padma Shri in 2013.
- Dingko, as he prefers to be called, is now 38. He still has his medals and a job — he is a coach with the Sports Authority of India — but he’s lost his home and 70% of his liver to cancer over the past four months.
- It’s a fight for life and he’s not backing down.
- If you’d like to help, send a text to Babai at 8131830664.
Dingko is in Delhi with his wife Babai, 31, recovering from a 14-hour liver surgery on January 6. They’re living in a friend’s tiny, three-room DDA flat in Delhi’s Shahpur Jat village. The steps are crumbling and steep, so he spends most of his time huddled under a duvet while his wife fusses and tries to get him to eat a little by getting him food he likes — pork momos, for instance.
We must take care of our champions jst as they make us proud. Help Asian Games Gold winner by sending a text to Babai-his wife at 8131830664 pic.twitter.com/ryn0fqeI7c— Gautam Gambhir (@GautamGambhir) February 5, 2017
He tires easily and can’t speak much. He says hello, is curious about what you want and then quickly crawls back into bed and a half-daze.
Babai, who is initially hesitant to speak, can’t stop talking about her many worries once she starts. “It started with jaundice in July and when he lost 3 to 4 kg in a month and didn’t get better, we took him to a city hospital. The doctors there referred him to AIIMS [the All India Institute of Medical Sciences], where he was diagnosed with cancer,” she says.
Dingko has lost 25 kg more since then. “I’m worried about how he will survive the six rounds of chemotherapy that he has to undergo after surgery,” Babai says.
Watch: When Dingko showed journalists the middle finger
The toughest part
Leaving their two children, 11-year-old Arena and 15-year-old Dingson (yes, for son of Dingko), in a privately run boarding house for school students has been even harder for the Singhs than selling their home was.
“Dingson is in Class 10 and Arena in Class 6. We had to leave them in Imphal so they don’t miss school,” says Babai.
She doesn’t recall when she last spoke to them. “I don’t call them. Talking to them makes me miss them more and I feel like crying,” says Babai. “I feel like crying, but I don’t cry,” she adds.
The family pays Rs 10,000 a month for room and board for both children.
Apart from that, there are expenses such as travel to Delhi and medicines. “We’ve spent about Rs 10 lakh on treatment since July,” Babai says.
Since Singh is a government employee, part of the cost of his surgery and hospitalisation at the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS) in New Delhi will be reimbursed under the Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS).
“The Sports Authority of India, where he has worked since 2013, gave us Rs 50,000, but we had to sell the house to pay for the rest of the treatment, and for travel,” says Babai.
With their house sold, Dingko and his wife plan to move to their ancestral village, which is more than an hour’s drive from Imphal. “We have no choice,” she says. “The children will continue to live in the hostel to be near school, and will come home on holidays.”
Despite the hardships ahead, the couple is looking forward to going home.
“Now he started his first round of chemotherapy, I’m hoping we can go home to Imphal to continue the next rounds there,” Babai says.
Dingko’s surgery on January 6 was done by Viniyendra Pamecha, professor of liver transplant and hepato pancreatico biliary surgery at the ILBS.
“He was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma [bile duct cancer], which is a form of liver cancer that originates in the bile ducts. Singh withstood the surgery very well because he was otherwise healthy,” says Dr Pamecha.
With rising obesity and increasing alcohol abuse in the general population, liver cancer rates are growing fast. “At ILBS, we get more than 500 cases a year,” says institute director Dr Shiv Kumar Sarin. “Survival rates are higher than 90% if it is diagnosed in the early stages, but if the tumours are large, then the patient needs a liver transplantation. Liver cancer is the second-most common cause of cancer deaths, so early detection and screening — especially if you have Hepatitis B and C or cirrhosis of the liver — is a must.”