‘Swing Hard in Case You Hit It’: NY Yankees Legend Bernie Williams Shares Lessons from His Family’s Liver Disease Fight
Longtime New York Yankees player Bernie Williams opens up on why liver disease is such a personal fight to him.
You might not think about your liver health very often. If everything’s in good working order, you might not think you have to. But, according to the American Liver Foundation, liver disease affects more than 100 million Americans. The foundation cautions that when it’s left untreated, liver disease can lead to liver failure, cancer and can even be fatal—in 2020, it was the 12th leading cause of death in the US. With numbers like those, and a personal history with liver disease, former Yankees star Bernie Williams is stepping up to bat to help spread awareness about the importance of supporting your liver health.
He recently helped launch One Liver to Love in partnership with Eisai as well as Global Liver Institute (GLI) and Blue Faery, which are both patient advocacy organizations that provide education and resources to people living with liver cancer. The initiative hopes to offer support to families like Williams’ who are impacted by liver disease.
Williams spoke to The Healthy @Reader’s Digest about how liver disease has touched his life, the choices he makes to keep his liver healthy and the lessons he learned from his 16-year baseball career.
Bernie Williams on how to support your liver health
Liver disease has affected several people in Williams’ life, including his mother, his uncle and his grandmother. “Learning from their experience, it’s something that I do not want to have to go through myself,” he told The Healthy.
Because of that, Williams has made it a priority to make the right lifestyle choices for his liver. As part of the One Liver to Love campaign, he shared four cornerstones of health to support your liver: nutrition, exercise, sleep hygiene and mental health.
“When you have a good understanding of your nutrition, what you put in your body definitely is going to affect its performance,” he says. “Getting the proper amount of rest and getting to move your body as far as exercises and being active, and also having an outlet, like I have with music that can relax me and improve my mental health, those are things that are really important that I try to follow every day to have a better, good overall health, and especially with my liver.”
Dr. Mark Lewis, a medical oncologist and director of gastrointestinal oncology at Intermountain Healthcare, agrees, adding that a low-fat diet and moderating your alcohol consumption are also key to keeping your liver healthy.
Hydration is another important factor to remember. “Both the liver and the kidneys are filters, and within reason, the more water and non-sweetened beverages we can consume, the more we help the filtration process,” Dr. Lewis says. “So it’s a matter of … really being mindful about what we put in our gut, because that’s going to end up being processed by our liver.”
Facing a liver disease diagnosis in the family
Courtesy One Liver to Love campaign
With liver disease being so present in his family, Williams has thought a lot about how it feels to be there for a loved one who is facing a cancer diagnosis. “I think one of the most important things for the patient is to have that team of people surrounding them and giving them love and support,” he says.
And even though there are lifestyle changes you can make to support your liver health, Williams emphasizes that that doesn’t mean that a diagnosis is in your control. “Cancer, it could happen to anybody. And even though some of the life choices that we make could negatively impact our health, it’s not a done deal and it’s written in stone how you get into these diseases. So I think having the understanding, not playing the blame game, and really supporting and being of help for the patient is probably the most important thing.”
Dr. Lewis says surrounding loved ones with support and optimism is crucial—and that with the advances that have been made in treatment, his message “is one of hope.”
“When someone is diagnosed with cancer, and I think this is really important and dovetails with Bernie’s message, a positive mental attitude really goes a long way,” Dr. Lewis says. “And I want people to be appropriately hopeful. Not every cancer is a death sentence, thankfully.”
Bernie Williams’ life lessons on and off the field
Whether it’s facing a family illness or a World Series game (he played in six and won four!) Bernie Williams says one of his biggest life lessons has been simple: “Swing hard in case you hit it.”
To Williams, baseball is a perfect example of why it’s important to be resilient in life, and embrace uncertainty. To try, even if you’re worried about failure.
“Baseball has this redeeming quality; you can have a whole terrible game up until the game is on the line, and then you do your best, you produce and then everything is forgotten,” he tells The Healthy. “So there’s this redeeming quality about the game that I always felt attracted to, even though we are always trying to control something and we have no idea what’s going to happen.”