Thriving as a Survivor
- NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 75, enjoyed himself at the NBA All-Star Game this past weekend.
- It’s great to see Abdul-Jabbar thriving because he’s greatly struggled with his health over the years. He is a prostate cancer and chronic myeloid leukemia survivor, but he’s dealt with atrial fibrillation, or AFib, in recent years. He just partnered with Bristol Myers Squibb and Pfizer’s “No Time to Wait” campaign to educate others about Afib and its symptoms.
- AFib is a “an irregular and often very rapid heart rhythm (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots in the heart,” according to the Mayo Clinic. It increases a person’s risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.
Abdul-Jabbar is a former professional basketball player who dominated the NBA for 20 seasons as a center for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers. Over the weekend, the 75-year-old star got to watch today’s top talents in the sport – along with many a celebrity – take to the court in Salt Lake City, Utah, for the NBA All-Star Game.
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RELATED: NBA Legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 75, Who Battled Cancer Twice, Reveals Atrial Fibrillation Diagnosis, Insists ‘It’s Absolutely Necessary’ To Get Checked
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But Abdul-Jabbar is no stranger to this annual basketball exhibition game. In fact, the 75-year-old basketball legend had previously been selected for 19 All-Star Games and played in them 18 times – the most of any NBA player. He was even the NBA’s all-time scorer until Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, 38, recently beat his record.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Health Battles
It’s great to see Kareem Abdul-Jabbar living it up because the former basketball pro has had some very serious health battles over the years. For starters, Abdul-Jabbar is a prostate cancer survivor.
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In September 2020, he opened up about being diagnosed 11 years prior and called attention to the systemic racism that perpetuates our healthcare systems.
“While I’m grateful for my advantages, I’m acutely aware that many others in the Black community do not have the same options and that is my responsibility to join with those fighting to change that,” he wrote in an essay for WebMD. “Because Black lives are at risk. Serious risk.”
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Abdul-Jabbar is also a chronic myeloid leukemia survivor. He was diagnosed in 2008 after a blood test revealed he had a very high white blood cell count.
“I found out I had leukemia after having a series of night sweats where I didn’t know what was going on,” he said in an interview with UCLA Health. “I made some very faulty assumptions about what was causing it, and finally I mentioned it to the trainer – I was coaching with the Lakers at the time.”
After his diagnosis, “precision medicine was used to focus on the genetic mutation driving [his] disease.”
He tweeted that he had beat the disease completely in 2011, but he later shared that he had made a “misstatement.”
“You’re never really cancer-free and I should have known that,” he explained. “My cancer right now is at an absolute minimum.”
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Then, more recently, Abdul-Jabbar has struggled with atrial fibrillation, or AFib. AFib is a “an irregular and often very rapid heart rhythm (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots in the heart,” according to the Mayo Clinic. It increases a person’s risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.
“I started noticing symptoms about two or three years ago,” he said in a recent interview with PEOPLE. “I was having irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath and had no energy or stamina. I couldn’t walk more than 30 yards without having to sit down and rest to catch my breath.”
“I thought it was a temporary issue… I had been an athlete and was in shape, so I felt it wasn’t going to bother me for any length of time. But I was quite wrong.”
A few months after his symptoms temporarily went away, Abdul-Jabbar started feeling very ill during an Los Angeles Dodgers game.
“I was sitting in the sun and the sun seemed to suck all of the air out of my chest,” he said. “I tried to get up from my seat and head to my car and while people were helping me to my car, I collapsed and almost crashed into the Dodgers trophy case.”
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An urgent trip to the hospital resulted in his AFib diagnosis, and he’s since managed his condition with medication and certain exercise therapies. Now, he’s raising awareness for the condition and partnered with Bristol Myers Squibb and Pfizer’s “No Time to Wait” campaign to educate others about Afib and its symptoms.
“The shortness of breath and irregular heartbeat are things that come and go but in the long-term, this is considered life threatening and people need to know about it,” Abdul-Jabbar said, urging people to seek medical attention if they have any symptoms. “It’s absolutely necessary for people to get checked by a doctor, and I hope that my coming out and talking about this will help people understand what they need to do to protect their health.”
Symptoms of AFib can include:
- Sensations of a fast, fluttering or pounding heartbeat (palpitations)
- Chest pain
- Reduced ability to exercise
- Shortness of breath
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