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What Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Leukemia Diagnosis Does for the Rest of Us

Posted on May 23, 2019

When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — retired NBA superstar and six-time MVP — revealed in 2009 that he had chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), a wave of empathy and validation washed over the leukemia community. “Wow. Even him, too?”

Three things happen for us when a celebrity opens up about a diagnosis and shares the fact of their chronic illness with us.

First, they help to destigmatize the disease. The condition becomes more visible and relatable. Suddenly, we see our friends and family changing their attitudes toward our condition, and even toward us.

Second, we feel more hopeful and inspired in our own life. Knowing that a celebrity is facing the same day-to-day struggles we do, all while under the glare of stardom, we are more endeared toward them. We especially feel a connection when they use their voice to bring visibility to leukemia.

Finally, we feel empowered by the will of athletes and public figures to step forward and take control of the narrative about their condition under intense media scrutiny. When they show the world what it means to live with leukemia, they offer a roadmap and inspire confidence for how we might do the same.

Whether famous or not, the public acknowledgment of one’s disease is a brave act in the face of the stigma of chronic disease. As leukemia awareness spreads, acceptance soon follows.

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Is there a notable person who has inspired you? How do you feel about celebrities discussing their condition? Share in the comments below or post on MyLeukemiaTeam.

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