Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's "Message of Hope"

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
When you've spent your life as one of the best basketball players who ever lived - winning championships in high school, in college and in the pros, scoring more points than anyone else and immortalized in sports history and on film - you don't expect to come suddenly face-to-face with your mortality.

"I started having hot flashes and sweats," Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told CBS News correspondent Jeff Greenfield. "And I wasn't a candidate for menopause, you know? So, trying to figure out what that was all about."

In the middle of a busy life - best-selling author, special coach for the L.A. Lakers, parent - Abdul-Jabbar learned last December that he had a rare form of cancer.

"What I have is P.H. positive chronic myeloid leukemia, which is an aberration in your white blood cells," Abdul-Jabbar said.

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Abdul-Jabbar lost a grandfather to colon cancer and almost lost his father to the same illness. But for Abdul-Jabbar, the news was a lot less grim.

"Ten years ago, this was a very serious, life-threatening diagnosis," said Dr. Michael Schuster of New York Presbyterian Hospital. "The only treatment was a bone marrow transplant. Patients now take a pill a day and can eliminate every molecular trace of the disease."

That hopeful diagnosis is why Abdul-Jabbar is now using his high visibility to go public about his illness.

"Sending this message out there, it's a message of hope. That's what it's intended to be," Abdul-Jabbar said. "It's not intended to be just a grim announcement. I want people to understand that I intend to continue living and doing all the things that I love to do up until the end. And the end is by no means rushing up on me."

For additional information about chronic myeloid leukemia:
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
The Mayo Clinic
The National Cancer Institute