Lisa Leslie recently retired from the WNBA and has teamed up with Covidien to help people understand the treatment options available to manage liver cancer.
Swish Appeal was fortunate to have the opportunity to have an extended interview with WNBA icon Lisa Leslie on Monday afternoon. Topics of discussion ranged from her latest project to her thoughts on media coverage of women’s basketball to which team she was rooting for in the WNBA Finals. Part 1 of the interview will cover her latest project: promoting liver cancer awareness.
There were many things on Lisa Leslie’s to-do list as she transitioned from an iconic basketball career into life, ranging from starting her own basketball academy to talking basketball with Charles Barkley and Ernie Johnson on TNT.
For now, number one on her list is doing her part to promote liver cancer awareness in honor of her step-father, Tom Espinoza, who passed away on January 15, 2001, two months after being diagnosed with stage III primary liver cancer.
Leslie is teaming up with Covidien, named the leading innovator in the medical devices and service industry by the Wall Street Journal’s Patent Board, to launch an educational program and Web site, www.MyLiverCancerOptions.com.
“For me, I like to do what I’m passionate about and it actually was a no-brainer,” said Leslie in a phone interview yesterday afternoon. “For my step-father to pass away in the manner that he did and to find out that I can do something to help other people, it was easy to team up with Covidien.”
The program is part of October’s Liver Awareness Month, sponsored by the American Liver Foundation, and will feature Leslie discussing her family’s experience with liver cancer. For her family, it was an experience of Espinoza’s life rapidly slipping away while they were left in the dark with limited options.
“That was probably the most disturbing part,” said Leslie. “Just not knowing what to do and my step-father having cancer and [progressing] to stage 3 — it was pretty serious. We didn’t have anything to do and I know what that felt like and I saw it; it’s not like it’s someone else’s story. It’s my story, it’s my life, and my mom – I watched my mom deal with that. And if we could just help spread the word and maybe help other people and families who may be going through this to see that Covidien [does] offer other options.”
The website provides information to help patients and their families understand the treatment options available to manage liver cancer, as well as basic information about liver cancer, risk factors, and prevention strategies. It’s a matter close to Leslie’s heart because it’s information that was not available to her family as they were scrambling to find answers for Espinoza.
“We were lacking just the fact that there were surgical options that were available we didn’t know about,” said Leslie. “We didn’t recognize that there was a lot of different signs for him with his blood levels, the enzyme levels that were really high that were ignored and that would have helped if we would have maybe had a second opinion and known that there were other options other than just kinda, ‘Go home.‘ — you go home with it and there’s nothing else you can do.”
In the U.S., liver cancer is on the rise. A study published in the March 2009 issue of Journal of Clinical Oncology reported that the incidence of liver cancer in the U.S. tripled between 1975 and 2005, from 1.6 to 4.9 cases per 100,000 people, according to a 2009 article in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. The latest estimates from the American Cancer Society show that an estimated 22,620 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with liver cancer in 2009.2 Survival rates are improving, however, in part because more diagnostic and treatment options are available today than in 1975.
“Since 1975 the number of liver cancer cases have tripled up until 2005,” said Leslie. “And that’s happened in my lifetime alone, which is really – wow – that’s pretty astonishing to hear those types of numbers. So I think more people need to be aware of it.”