What you need to know:
- Where there is a will there is a way for former Kenya taekwondo captain who has battled the odds with no money, no job, no hope, to once again be in tip-top shape
- The resilient black belt holder was almost certain to make the Kenya taekwondo team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games before Hodgkin’s lymphoma put paid to his dreams, but after months of treatment he is back on the mend, engaging in the game he so loves and is now targeting a place at next year’s World Championships in Moscow
At 33, former Kenya taekwondo captain Vincent Dock should be a man in his prime -- on top of his game and the world.
But he was put down by bad health.
His health failed him at the most crucial moment, and he is now struggling to fend for his young family, as he plots a major comeback in the ring.
The Second Dan Black Belt International holder is certain that he would have made the two-member Kenya taekwondo team to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic had he not been diagnosed with stage three Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a cancer of the lymphatic system.
“Exactly! Even the officials (of Kenya Taekwondo Federation) were sure of that,” Dock says as a mater of fact.
Out of the 85 athletes who represented Kenya at the Games held this year, Faith Ogallo was the country’s sole representative in taekwondo.
However, she was crushed 13-0 by Serbian Milica Manic in the women’s 67kg round-of-16 contest. Dock says the national anthem sounds differently when played in a foreign country.
“To qualify for the Olympics was my dream,” says the six-time Kenya Open International Champion, who in October made his return to the ring since August 2019 when he was diagnosed with the dreaded cancer.
“I had started preparing myself for the Olympics back in 2015 at the All Africa Games in Congo Brazzaville. I was sure of qualifying for the Tokyo Games but then cancer came and changed everything."
It was at the Governor’s Championships Cup held on October 16 at the General Service Unit Training School in Nairobi that the Kenya international made his return to the ring after finishing all his 12 chemotherapy sessions in May this year.
And he did it with a bang –scooping a gold medal in the men’s high division category after dismantling all his five opponents in the one-day tournament.
There was more for the father of three to celebrate as he was also named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player while his side – Kenya Police, were crowned the overall winners of the competition.
Their arch-rivals Kenya Defence Forces finished second.
Even though the Governor’s Championships Cup was not a “big” stage event, Dock says the achievement will remain etched in his memory since he never imagined defeating stage three cancer to return to competitive fighting.
“I can’t explain the feeling of winning on my first return after defeating cancer. I never expected to come back that strong from what I went through. It was a very difficult time for me, my family and friends. I just felt relieved of everything,” he sighs.
While there were early signs that something might not be right in Dock’s health, a series of misdiagnosis resulted in the late discovery of the disease.
After experiencing night fever back in 2015, he sought medical opinion from a nurse who suggested that it might be as a result of the draining workouts that he was doing to maintain his tip-top physical state.
Dock accepted the explanation since he was then training hard, with his sights set on the 2015 All Africa Games in the Republic of Congo.
The hard work paid dividends when he qualified for the continental show piece, where he was eliminated at the quarter-finals stage in the featherweight category.
Dock’s draining workouts, involved leaving his house in Kisumu’s Manyatta Slum at 5am for a three-hour jog. The run included sprints sessions at the hilly Kikomi area.
At midday, he went to Kisumu’s Moi Stadium for his second training round of the day. This was his main workout of the day that covered his martial art skills.
He then ended his day’s training with some strength and conditioning sessions in the gym.
Come 2018, Dock started experiencing high fever, pain on his joints, right hip bone, groin and lower back.
He visited various hospital for tests that kept returning negative despite the obvious symptoms.
He was forced to turn to painkillers to manage his mounting discomfort even as he continued training.
But it was just a matter of time before the discomfort turned to genuine distress.
He made his second appearance at the 2019 All Africa Games in Rabat, Morocco.
At the games, the pains in his body became unbearable and in his first fight he could only offer token resistance to his Nigerian opponent who swept him aside 21-8.
This is a performance he reckons was his worst in the 15 years he had been in the sport.
As his teammates returned home with good memories, Dock was all lost in anguished thoughts of what could be ailing him.
Then it dawned on him that his dream of featuring in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics would not be fulfilled.
This is because his ill health would not allow him to perform well in the qualifiers that had been lined up.
Meanwhile, more and more tests in medical centres could still not reveal what was wrong with him.
This went on for a year before, finally, his worst fears were confirmed – that he was suffering from cancer.
An afterthought test on his lymph nodes, where specimen was extracted from his neck and groin confirmed that he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma that had advanced to stage three.
“I felt so low when I was finally diagnosed with cancer. If I think back to that day, my wife actually hid the results from me because I had earlier expressed to her my fears of being diagnosed with cancer. In her own way she really wanted to protect me. She was so afraid for me. It is her brother who broke the sad news to me,” recalled Dock. “I almost felt like my life had ended.”
He had been admitted at a private hospital in Kisumu with swollen legs and stomach and inadequate blood in his body.
According to a 2020 publication by healthline.com, Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a blood cancer that starts in the lymphatic system.
People with the disease have their white blood cells (lymphocytes) growing abnormally and spreading beyond the lymphatic system. As the disease progresses, it makes it difficult for the body to fight infections. The cause of the disease is not known.
Dock says that it took him two weeks to start thinking positively.
And this was only after a doctor informed him that the disease was treatable and that he had to be strong and remain positive to win the fight.
Dock also had to grapple with another problem. Neither him nor his wife Joyce had a job.
Because of his ill health and the Coronavirus pandemic, he lost his coaching job at a local private school.
His wife was also forced to quit her job to take care of him.
The high cost of cancer treatment and care in the country hit them hard immediately after doctors recommended blood transfusion on him before they started chemotherapy.
Since there were no such services at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kisumu, where he was being taken care of, due to a strike by medics then, they shifted to the nearby Jalaram Nursing and Maternity Home.
But the health facility had no blood, forcing them to buy from a third party. Every day for three weeks, they parted with Sh3,500 for a pint of blood.
On occasions when they got blood donors, they were required to pay Sh7,500 for screening of the donated blood.
One session of chemotherapy cost Sh36,000 exclusive of the Sh3,000 for blood and kidney tests.
The National Health Insurance Fund could only cater for Sh16,000, leaving him with a huge medical bill.
His friends and well-wishers, he says, came to his rescue at his hour of need.
“I saw the value of friendship at that moment because I never missed any chemotherapy sessions thanks to them. The chemotherapy was very tough. It was a very tough journey, ” said Dock, who was also forced to relocate from his two--room brick walled house to a one-room mud house to cut expenses.
As a result, they also had to sell most of their household items to raise money for hospital bills.
It is now six months since his last chemotherapy session, and even though Dock is now feeling fine there is still that lingering though: is he cancer free?
He is yet to undergo the test that will establish if there are any traces of the disease in him. Reason? The test costs Sh75,000 that he does not have.
Doctors had recommended that the test be done two months after the last chemotherapy session. To make ends meet, Dock trains pupils in taekwondo at Citam Schools Kisumu.
He also runs the Integrity Centre for Youth that is owned by the church and also holds fitness classes for clients.
Pain free now and eager, he has set his sights on the 2022 Taekwondo World Championships that will be held in Moscow, Russia.
He believes he will make it. After all, he is a fighter.