*Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has revealed that he is undergoing treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia, a rare form of the disease that was diagnosed last December.
The former Los Angeles Lakers center said his doctor didn’t give any guarantees, but informed him: “You have a very good chance to live your life out and not have to make any drastic changes to your lifestyle.”
Inspired by the way Lakers teammate Magic Johnson’s HIV disclosure brought awareness to the disease in 1991, Abdul-Jabbar said he wants to do the same for his form of blood cancer, which can be fatal if left untreated.
“I’ve never been a person to share my private life. But I can help save lives,” he said at a midtown Manhattan conference room. “It’s incumbent on someone like me to talk about this.”
Abdul-Jabbar, 62, said he became concerned last year after feeling odd sensations. He went for tests at his alma mater UCLA. “I was getting hot flashes and sweats on a regular basis,” he said. “That’s not normal, even for my age.”
An exam showed his white blood cell count was “sky high” and a doctor quickly diagnosed his condition. At first, all Abdul-Jabbar heard was the word “leukemia.”
“I was scared,” he said. “I thought it was all the same. I thought it could mean I have a month to live.”
“That was my first question,” he said. “Was I going to make it?”
Abdul-Jabbar drew upon his years of martial arts study to approach the diagnosis like a samurai, to face death without fear.
“I had my face on,” he said.
Abdul-Jabbar is a special assistant with the Lakers and said he hasn’t had to cut back his level of activity of coaching, change his regimen or adjust his diet. “I’m able to sneak out for Thai food,” he said.
“There is hope. This condition can be treated. You can still live a productive, full life,” he said. “I’m living proof I can make it.”
The retired athlete says he being counseled by his 28-year-old middle son, Amir, a third-year medical student in San Francisco.
“He was a real great source for me, just that I can talk to him about it. Being a doctor, he understood what was happening, and gave me realistic viewpoint on it,” Abdul-Jabbar said in an interview with People.com. “That means a lot to me.”