Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Takes His Illness Public
SCOTT SIMON, host:
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar revealed some difficult news this week. The Hall Of Fame basketball legend disclosed that he has a rare form of cancer. Doctors diagnosed him with chronic myeloid leukemia almost a year ago, and he has now decided to share his story to show that a cancer diagnosis isnt some kind of automatic death sentence. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar joins us now from our studios in New York. Mr. Jabbar, thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR (Former Basketball Player): Happy to be here.
SIMON: May I ask, sir, what did doctors tell you?
Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, at first they told me that I had leukemia and they had to do some further analysis to see exactly what was what, and it came up as Ph-positive, chronic myeloid leukemia.
SIMON: And how did that go through you?
Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, you know, you hear the word leukemia and its a shock, its scary. You know that leukemia has killed a lot of people. You think that youre next on the list. It is definitely a scary proposition.
SIMON: But I understand your prognosis is pretty good.
Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: My prognosis is very good. I was in some ways fortunate that - even though I had to deal with leukemia, I had to deal with the type of leukemia that is treatable.
SIMON: And may I ask how you treat it?
Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: Basically what you have to do is to find a health care specialist that understands the issue and you have to get your blood checked regularly and you have to take your medication. Those are the three pillars of successfully managing this disease.
SIMON: How does it affect you life now, sir?
Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: Basically I have to take my medicine everyday, and I have to go in and have my blood analyzed on a regular basis. Other than that, it hasnt really impacted my life to any great degree. Im able to do the same things that I was doing. Im still coaching. Im still involved in writing. And Im working on a documentary at this point, just trying to live my life.
SIMON: So if there was a sequel to Airplane, youd be available to play yourself again?
Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: I would be available.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: I havent seen that come up recently, but some of us would like to see it. So maybe this mention will help.
Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: You know, its funny, if you remember that - the little boy
Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: that I acted with, I was in the airport a couple of weeks ago and I met his wife.
SIMON: Oh, my word
Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: Hes an adult these days and hes married, and I met his wife.
SIMON: Mr. Jabbar, what do you want people to understand about people who get a diagnosis like the one you received? Or anybody who lives with any kind of cancer.
Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: I would like for them to understand that it doesnt have to be a death sentence. And early detection and rigorous adherence to a treatment schedule can greatly affect the outcome of whats happening. You can live with this and manage it and continue to live your life.
SIMON: May I ask sir, well, anybody would - you dont have to be an NBA legend to be concerned that people would want to treat you in a certain way if they heard that you had this.
Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: No, but its been very interesting that since I made this announcement Ive gotten a lot of support. A lot of people have come, they just want to let me know Im in their prayers and they really support what Im doing. I think that someone in my position can really help educate the public in terms of what they need to do on a regular basis to contend with these conditions. Too many American take their health for granted and dont go for regular check-ups regular check-ups should be a part of everybodys health regimen.
SIMON: I want you to know, I sent out a message that we were going to be able to talk to you today and I got a lot of messages from people who say, give him our best, we admire him, were rooting for him. And I was very touched by the number of you would be very touched by the number of messages I got from people in Milwaukee
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: who say
Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: Milwaukees a great town. I have a lot of friends there.
SIMON: Yeah. They say they, you know, youll always be theirs, no matter where you wind up in life.
Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: Absolutely.
SIMON: In a totally different direction, do you see the Lakers repeating?
Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: I think the Lakers have a good chance to repeat. Theyve improved the team. I think the addition of Ron Artest is going to make a difference down the road. They certainly wont be seen as being a soft team anymore.
SIMON: Yeah. That was Ron Artest.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: The word soft has not been associated with him in his career. Well, Mr. Jabbar we know youre involved in a lot of projects, so youre welcome back anytime to talk about them. Whats the documentary youre working on?
Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: Its called On the Shoulders of Giants. Its about the Harlem Renaissance and the greatest basketball team you never heard of, the Harlem Rens, who were the very first professional champions of basketball in 1939.
SIMON: Youre right. Ive never heard of them until this moment. We look forward to seeing that and perhaps talking to you about it.
Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: Id love to come back and talk to you about it.
SIMON: Oh, good. Thanks so much, Mr. Jabbar.
Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: It was my pleasure.
SIMON: Later this hour, well talk to another basketball legend, University of North Carolina coach Roy Williams.
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