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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Helping Unite Those Who Live with Rare Leukemia

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar helps people with rare leukemia Photo Courtesy of Novartis Oncology

In a remarkable demonstration of progress in cancer treatment, people around the United States who are living with a previously fatal form of leukemia joined together this month to focus on enhancing the quality of their lives in the decades ahead.

Patients and families impacted by chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) participated in a six-hour online virtual patient summit focused on “Living Well with CML.”

The event opened and closed with presentations from two leading CML patient advocates: Greg Stephens, the executive director of the National CML Society, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, actor, author, ambassador and patient advocate who was diagnosed with CML in 2008.

When he made his diagnosis public, Abdul-Jabbar told ABC News that "I heard the world 'leukemia,' and I thought this was definitely a death sentence." He added that his prognosis was good, and said, "If I can do this as I'm told to do it, I can manage this."

He now serves as a spokesperson for Novartis Oncology and told Patient Power in a telephone interview on Sept. 13, 2012 that he does this work to “do his share” to help others, and to “pay it forward.”

He added, “Knowledge is power,” and said that patients who better understand disease management can “prolong and better your life.”

Some 5,000 people are newly diagnosed with CML in the United States each year according to the National Cancer Institute. One of the four main types of leukemia, CML is an acquired cancer of the blood caused by development of an abnormal chromosome that causes the creation of too many white blood cells.

The number of people living with CML is growing significantly due to breakthrough treatment methods that have changed this leukemia from a nearly always terminal condition into a manageable chronic disease for most patients.

Prior to 2001, traditional therapies such as chemotherapy were used, and the average life expectancy for CML patients after diagnosis was three to five years.

A new form of targeted drug therapy, which stops the production of leukemic cells, became the fastest drug ever approved by the FDA in 2001.

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