Surviving cancer and fundraising for CanTeen

Sydney’s Abhishek Malik on swimming the English Channel for a CanTeen fundraiser and what he’s doing today.

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Abhishek Malik raised over $20,000 for CanTeen Australia. Source: CanTeen Australia (Facebook).

In 2019, Abhishek Malik became one of a select group of people who have swum the English Channel.

The fifteen-hour, 32-km distance has only been conquered by 230 Australians and 55 Indians so far.

Malik, though, was driven by something far too strong – the fight against cancer.

AT A GLANCE

  • Abhishek Malik was diagnosed with tongue cancer at 22
  • After recovery, he dived deep into fundraising for CanTeen, and swam the English Channel to raise over $22,000
  • Today as 26-year-old, he continues to fundraise for them with various activities

As a survivor himself, he was swimming to raise funds for CanTeen, a national support organisation for young people aged 12-25 living with cancer.

But that was not the end of his philanthropic endeavours. As a 26-year-old today, Abhishek has aged out as a CanTeen patient member, but remains a youth ambassador. He also continues to volunteer for them, helping out with events like National Bandana Day, a major fundraising event held on the last Friday of October annually. National Bandana Day has raised over thirty million dollars for CanTeen.

Abhishek believes he has found his niche in channel swims, and “definitely has intentions of participating in more fundraising.”

He aims to cross the Catalina Channel, a 30-km swim from Santa Catalina Island to Southern California, but plans are currently up in the air thanks to the pandemic.

Malik with his good mate and moral support/ training partner, David Almeida. During a channel crossing, participants are allowed three 1-hour moral support swims.

Currently, though he is training for the ‘Iron Man’ triathlon, which includes a 4 kilometre swim, 180 kilometre bicycle ride, and a 42 kilometre run.

Abhishek laments that in the South Asian communities, cancer has much stigma attached to it. One of the reasons he has wanted to talk about his swim last year is so that other Indians who are going through the same experience would feel less inclined to shy away from talking about it.

“A cancer diagnosis is not something to be ashamed of, it just sort of happens. It’s unfortunate, and it’s bad luck, but it’s life.”

Abhishek recalls that during his own recovery process, people were often afraid to bring up the ‘C-word’ and referred instead to his ‘illness’.

“No one would directly address my cancer,” he says. “I say cancer in general is something that we must talk about more and more.”

Back in 2016, Abhishek, then 22, was diagnosed with tongue cancer. It which came as a shock to him.

“I was a healthy non-smoker young adult,” he tells Indian Link. “The diagnosis came out of nowhere.”

Malik after the grueling swim that took 14 hours and 32 minutes.

He spent the next year in and out of hospital, undergoing surgery first that left him bed-ridden for two weeks, and then radiotherapy daily for a month.

“During the process, I had a lot of time to think,” Abhishek ruminates. “I was at home, isolated, with a lot of time to reflect on where I was in my life at twenty two.” This was when he decided that he wanted to do more to give back to society.

Once he started to recover in mid-2017, he gave himself a year to regain his strength. “I’m still not the same physically,” he reveals.

In early 2018, Abhishek decided he wanted to raise funds for CanTeen by swimming the English Channel. When asked about why he chose this specifically, he said that he wanted to do “something big,” and that anything smaller would not have done justice to the year he had had surviving cancer. Abhishek wanted to prove that he had made it through and take advantage of what he had.

“I’ve always been an average athlete,” he admits. “Nothing extraordinary.”

Having enjoyed swimming at school, Abhishek picked this over other adventure sports like mountaineering for his fundraiser. Ten months of intense training at Sydney’s Manly and Coogee beaches followed. 

When he finally crossed the English Channel in August 2019, he had raised $22,180 for CanTeen.

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