Published Apr 18, 2022
Comedian Kathy Griffin, 61, has been showered with support from fans following her public lung cancer battle, and now the survivor is sharing the love for close pal and fellow survivor Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who just turned 75 over the weekend.
“Happy 75th birthday to a great writer who apparently plays basketball as well,” Griffin joked of the legendary six-time NBA champ in her Instagram photo tribute of the two of them. The retired L.A. Laker is a highly successful New York Times best-selling author, has published 14 books, and writes about sports and politics for outlets such as The Hollywood Reporter, Time, and Newsweek.
Along with being a Grammy-winning comic, Griffin herself is also an L.A.-based NYT bestselling author. The two formed a friendship when Griffin “sought him out,” as she described in her 2016 book, Kathy Griffin’s Celebrity Run-Ins: My A-Z Index. The thoughtful athlete event sent her a sympathy message when she lost her mother to dementia and old age two years ago.
“I don’t know a lot about sports, but I really admire greatness…I’m so loud and obnoxious, but surprisingly I’m very intrigued by introverts — and Kareem is extremely introverted,” she explained of the touching video message from her pal.
“This is what friendship looks like. Thank you, Legend,” Griffin gratefully expressed in her post with a praying hands emoji.
Griffin even wrote a joke for Abdul-Jabbar to crack at his 2016 Democratic National Convention speech. “Hi I’m Michael Jordan…I said that because I know Donald Trump couldn’t tell the difference,” he jabbed, as former president Trump has often been accused of racism.
All jokes aside, now six years later, their bond has surely intensified as Griffin became part of the not-so-highly-coveted “cancer club” in 2021 and is thankfully now all clear, despite having some complications from surgery. Abdul-Jabbar is actually a two-time survivor: prostate cancer and leukemia.
Regardless of what disease they may have fought or are fighting, in general, many cancer patients and survivors tend to form strong friendships. Often times people who have not been through similar battles have a tough time knowing exactly what it is like or how to comfort the person. Unfortunately, emotional and physical effects for survivors can sometimes be long-lasting, and some people don’t truly understand that.
In September 2020, Abdul-Jabbar opened up about his experience with prostate cancer in a piece for WebMD to raise awareness. More importantly, the six-time MPV acknowledged that he knows his experience is not representative of the care experienced by many other Black Americans.
“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 it is my responsibility to join with those fighting to change that. Because Black lives are at risk. Serious risk,” he wrote.
In addition to battling prostate cancer, Abdul-Jabbar fought chronic myeloid leukemia a decade earlier. In 2011, he tweeted that he had beat the disease completely—a statement he later retracted. “You’re never really cancer-free and I should have known that,” he wrote. “My cancer right now is at an absolute minimum.”
His first symptom of leukemia? Night sweats.
“I made some very faulty assumptions about what was causing it,” he said in an interview with UCLA. When he brought the issue up to the L.A. Lakers trainer, he was told to go to the doctor and have bloodwork done. He received a phone call the next day saying that his white blood cell count was very high—a possible indication of leukemia.
“I managed to stay positive just because of all the support I’ve gotten, especially from family,” he said. Abdul-Jabbar’s son was the first person he called. The basketball star thought that he might only have months to live, but his son calmed him down, saying just needed to learn everything he could about his cancer. This advice helped Abdul-Jabbar re-focus his energy on educating himself and figuring out everything he could do to put himself in the position to beat his disease.
“With the help that we have now, we can beat it,” he has said.
Symptoms of Leukemia may be subtle at first, but be sure to pay attention to these symptoms, and always get in to see a doctor immediately if something becomes amiss:
When it comes to prostate cancer however, this disease is typically slow-growing and easy to screen and treat early, but African-American men tend to have higher incidences and more aggressive cancers than white men, so the Black community needs to be super on the ball (no pun intended) with getting screened.
Prostate cancer patients have a 99% five-year survival rate, and advancements in treatment in recent years have improved patients’ lives significantly. Screening for prostate cancer typically involves a rectal exam and a PSA blood test.
“Why are men of African descent, why are they more risk, and why their cancers worse? Well, that’s a burning question,” Dr. Edwin Posadas of Cedars Sinai Medical Center admitted to SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “We’ve been trying to answer that question for more than a decade. We’re making progress … myself, my colleagues at Cedars-Sinai and around the country, have been very involved in this. Because prostate cancer affects men of all walks of life, but it affects them differently.”
Most guidelines recommend that men without other risk factors begin being screened at age 55 and continue until they are 70 years old. People with other risk factors (including people of color or people with relatives who have had the disease should start screening at 40 to 50 years old.
If you wind up getting diagnosed with the disease, there is a significant range of treatment options, and your approach to treatment may look very different depending on when the disease is detected. For some, surgery, radiation, or hormone therapy may be appropriate, but all of these options can come with meaningful side effects. For other patients, “active surveillance”—a process of watching and waiting to make sure that the cancer does not progress too quickly—may be sufficient.
Contributing by SurvivorNet staff.