Breast cancer fundraiser walk: Dr Prabodh Malhotra’s 1000 kms journey

The 71-year-old started his journey from the Melbourne Cricket Ground, aiming to finish at the Sydney Cricket Ground

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Five years ago, Dr Prabodh Malhotra’s life turned upside down when he learned of his sister Vinod Madhok’s breast cancer diagnosis.

Shocked, upset and confused at first, the Melbourne academic snapped out of it and offered Vinod, who is based in Punjab, all the love and care she needed throughout her treatment. The 4.5-hour time difference did not come in the way of the siblings.

After gruelling chemotherapy sessions in Chandigarh, Vinod recovered fully.

“But the impact of her sickness lingered on me,” says Malhotra.

Cut to the present, on 13 November, Malhotra began a challenging walk from the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) to raise funds through this breast cancer fundraiser walk for the McGrath Foundation, and create awareness as well as bust myths around breast cancer. The Foundation currently funds 185 nurses across Australia, who have provided care and support to over 1,10,000 families and people diagnosed with breast cancer.

The approximately 50-day walk is taking Malhotra through Shepparton, Wangaratta, Beechworth, Jindabyne, Cooma, Canberra, Goulburn and Liverpool before ending at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on January 4, 2023. This day coincides with day one of Sydney’s Pink Test. Towards the end of this herculean task of completing 1,000 kilometres, Malhotra plans to raise $1,000,000.

Also, did we mention he is 71 years old?

Source: Supplied
Second innings

Malhotra was born in a small town of Shahkot in Punjab. With big dreams in his eyes, he left the country at the age of 20 in 1973. He lived in Austria and Germany before migrating to Australia in 1980.

“My first job in Australia was at a petrol station. Previously in Austria, I was a motor mechanic. But I always wanted to study, and when an opportunity arose, I did my degree, masters and a PhD in health economics in Australia,” he recalls.

Malhotra’s flourishing career in academia saw him work as a lecturer at Swinburne University and Victoria University. He also taught at the Australian College of Kuwait. Six years ago, at 65, Malhotra retired only to set out on a new adventure this time.

“I love walking,” he tells Indian Link over a Zoom call. “I have been walking for almost 30 years now. But that was only to keep myself fit and healthy. Early this year when I signed up at the McGrath Foundation, I wanted to do a marathon walk for a cause.”

Keeping his age in mind, he knew he had to undergo rigorous training before hitting the road for the breast cancer fundraiser walk.

Melbourne’s famed 1000 Steps Walk proved very useful.

“I visited there almost every day. I used the ramp instead of the steps to look after my knees,” he shares.

Malhotra confesses Australia has given him tremendous opportunities and wants to give back.

“It has been an incredible experience living in Australia for 42 years now. People mark their retirement in different ways; I wanted to do something for society. That thought has led me to this marathon walk today.”

Uphill and downhill

It’s a Tuesday evening as this writer speaks to Malhotra; he is on a break at Goulburn. “I have covered almost 800km now—only 300 more to go,” he smiles.

Malhotra maintains a blog where he notes down every little detail of the day. On some good days, he covers 32km, and on some other, about 25. The best stretch has been in Victoria so far, he says.

“In Victoria, it was common for people to pull over and have a chat. Some would take a selfie with me, others would offer donation for the fundraiser. In NSW, when we walked into a restaurant or a café, the staff would recognise me from the TV or newspapers and go like – ‘oh you are the walking doctor’.”

Some restaurants even serve him food on the house. Some even offer free accommodation. But a white-coloured van has been Malhotra’s home for six weeks now.

His son Shekhar drives it along with other friends as Malhotra hits the road. They stop in the evening and hunt for places to park the vehicle. “We have met some really kind people who have offered us to access to toilets and showers without charging us a penny.”

But this has definitely not been a cakewalk for Malhotra. His friends, experienced marathoners, warned him of unexpected challenges. “In my blog, I have recorded how I’ve got multiple blisters on my feet. It’s definitely not been easy. But at no point did I feel that I want to quit,” he beams.

Prabodh Malhotra sleeps in his van (Source: Supplied)
A new learning

Two hours before this interview, Malhotra met with a farmer mowing seeds. “He stopped his tractor, removed his head gear and came to talk to me. A complete stranger, he wanted to know how the walk is going, if I have sore feet and whether he could do anything.”

Malhotra interacts with people on his way to talk about an early diagnosis of breast cancer and its treatment.

“There is still a lack of awareness around the disease in the country,” he tells Indian Link. “I knew there are 20,000 women diagnosed every year with breast cancer in Australia, but I did not know that men are also affected by it.”

A couple of months ago, Malhotra met a couple at an event hosted by the McGrath Foundation. “While introducing myself, I asked the man how he is connected to the Foundation. And he goes – ‘I am a breast cancer survivor’. I corrected him – ‘you mean your wife is’. And he says no, he fought the disease. That is when I found that between 200 and 250 males are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in Australia.”

Malhotra says that some celebrities and sports stars will be joining him in the last leg of his walk. One of them is Olympic gold medallist and Australian swimmer Emily Seebohm.

So what is next after this, we ask.

“I’ll cross the bridge when we come to it,” he laughs. “I want to see this breast cancer fundraiser walk through first. At the end of the day, I am 71, I want to do a lot of things but my body says, ‘hey, slow down’.”

If you wish to donate, click here.

Read More: The year that was, in Australia’s Indian community

Prutha Chakraborty
Prutha Chakraborty
Prutha Bhosle Chakraborty is a freelance journalist. With over nine years of experience in different Indian newsrooms, she has worked both as a reporter and a copy editor. She writes on community, health, food and culture. She has widely covered the Indian diaspora, the expat community, embassies and consulates. Prutha is an alumna of the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media, Bengaluru.

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