Fresh Living

Kareem Abdul-JabbarKareem Abdul-Jabbar, the “Big Guy” many regard as the best basketball player in history, announced today that he has cancer. A very rare variety of blood cancer called chronic myeloid leukemia. But apparently it’s treatable–he was diagnosed last December– and he is expected to make a full recovery. Three-point swish for that! We send our thoughts and prayers to him and his family.

Now, part two, this is a delicate topic to bring up with the news so fresh and the tragedy so real, but as a blood cancer survivor myself, this excerpt from an AP article caught my eye:

Abdul-Jabbar is taking an oral medication for the disease. He is a paid spokesman for the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, which makes a drug that treats the illness.

Citing the way Los Angeles Lakers teammate Magic Johnson brought awareness to HIV, Abdul-Jabbar said he wants to do the same for his form of blood cancer, which can be fatal if left untreated.

And from the same article:

“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.”

So, if I’m putting this together: He was diagnosed last year. He’s going public with this information now. He’s a paid sponsor for makers of the drug he’s taking for the disease. 

Am I a horrible cynic to think that there’s a link? And that this is actually nothing like Magic Johnson who came out about his illness at a time when it was a huge stigma and thought to affect mainly gay men and straight women? And when Magic came out I’m pretty sure he wasn’t simultaneously raising awareness while being paid for it.

Those are all the facts I have, but something about it feels off to me. Even though, in fact I am someone who might directly benefit from new awareness and research dollars potentially going for the research of blood cancer.

As you well know, pharma companies are being questioned for showering doctors with vacations and gifts, and renowned medical journal companies like Elsevier are being discredited because they published articles–even entire new journals–by people secretly on drug companies’ payrolls. Which brings up questions like: Should drug companies be allowed to advertise to the general public? Is wooing doctors to prescribe their drug harming patients who may not need that–or any–drug? Etc.

Bottom line: My heart is with Kareem for a full recovery, I applaud him for talking about this. And, also, I’d like more information the timing of his announcement and his arrangement with the company. It’s a tough one for journalists, but it’s an essential one for patients of all kinds.

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