AFL legend Robert Walls ‘rocked’ by serious cancer battle

Carlton legend Robert Walls has revealed he is in remission after being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia last year.

The 73-year-old was told in AFL grand final week that he had as little as one month to live if he did not undergo treatment, but significant chemotherapy has altered his outlook.

Walls, however, acknowledges “it’s not the end of the journey” after watching his wife Erin die from a second bout of lung cancer less than 12 months after she entered remission.

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“I said to my chronologist ‘if I don’t do anything, where do I stand?’ (They said) ‘you’d have one to three months to live’. That rocked me,’’ Walls told News Corp.

“What if I decide I didn’t want to get any treatment … and I thought for a few days of taking that option. I was going downhill pretty quickly and I just thought, I don’t want my grandchildren to see a sick, disabled old man.

“I don’t think it’s a weakness to think like that … but I needed to give myself a chance, to see if treatment could help me, and if it does help me, I could enjoy my children and grandchildren.”

A popular and outspoken former player, coach and commentator, and an Australian Football Hall of Famer, Walls played 218 games for Carlton and won premierships in 1968, 1970 and 1972.

He finished his career with Fitzroy and immediately stepped up as their senior coach, moving to the Blues in 1986 and coaching his beloved club to the flag the following year.

Robert Walls returned to the Blues as a mentor in 2019. Credit: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Walls is a Hall of Famer at Carlton — where he was elevated to Legend status in 2011 — and Brisbane, the latter for his work at Fitzroy and a five-year stint coaching the Bears.

He is credited with setting up the Lions ahead of their 2001-03 premiership hat-trick, having coached the likes of future flag heroes Michael Voss, Jason Akermanis, Justin Leppitsch, Chris Scott and Craig McRae in the mid-1990s.

Walls was still involved with the Blues as recently as 2019 when he agreed to volunteer as a mentor to then coach Brendon Bolton and his staff.

Walls’ health issues began last year.

He said he began to struggle with pain and sleep but was cleared of any heart issues.

A blood test on the day of last year’s Brownlow night in grand final week followed, and within 24 hours he learned of his diagnosis over the phone.

“(The doctor said) ‘go to Epworth emergency now’,” Walls said.

“I was by myself and I thought ‘Jesus, he’s abrupt and straight to the point’.’’

He would spend months in and out of hospital and is still wearing a chemo bag, in addition to sessions in hospital.

“I wasn’t shattered or felt cheated,” Walls said of learning how bad the cancer was.

“I just thought, I’ve had a wonderful life. I’m 73, and Erin passed away 18 years ago. She never saw the grandkids grow up.

“I’ve got seven grandkids, the oldest is Tara, 19, and the youngest is Daisy, 5, and the others are in between, and I’ve seen them grow up and I want to see more of that.

“That’s my incentive, to get a few more years. I don’t know how many more. If I could get a few more years, I’d happily sign off.’’

Robert Walls (standing) in the 1980s. Credit: Impressions/Getty Images

Walls said he has been inspired by broadcasting icon Sandy Roberts, who is battling a rare and incurable blood cancer but is also in remission.

Roberts, now 74, was diagnosed last year with myeloma following a fall that needed an X-ray to reveal broken ribs.

“If I hadn’t fallen down the stairs, I wouldn’t have known I had multiple myeloma,” Roberts told 7NEWS.

“The doctor finished up saying ‘of course, you’ve also got cancer’. Well, you could have blown us down with a feather.

“I mean, we had absolutely no idea … I mean, what’s he talking about?”

Chemotherapy left him desperately ill in hospital.

”I lost weight and I was weak and lethargic … yeah, it wasn’t pleasant,” Roberts said.

Roberts’ wife Carolyn said the illness had taken an emotional toll.

”Sometimes you want to fall into a hole, you definitely do,” she said.

“And there were times when I’d go into the bedroom and cry, and I’m sure Sandy did the same, but you’ve got to keep going.”

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