Hockey Legend Overcomes the Odds in the Toughest Battle of His Life

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Paul Henderson knows all too well about overcoming odds. Down three games to the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series, Henderson was part of the Canadian team that rallied back to defeat the USSR on home soil, scoring the game and eventual series-winning goal. Henderson went from hockey superstar to hockey legend and his life was forever changed. Flash forward almost 40 years and Henderson was facing even bigger odds. This time there was no opposing team, no trophy to be won; the battle was for his life.

In November 2009, Henderson was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a life-threatening blood cancer that affects white blood cells and bone marrow. CLL is the most common form of leukemia in adults, and it usually occurs in people over the age of 50.  In Canada, there were approximately 2,465 adults diagnosed with CLL in 2013 alone.

“Historically, it’s been challenging to treat CLL,” says Dr. Ronan Foley, a hematologist in Hamilton, Ontario. “There has been a real need for new therapies that can be effective in managing CLL, but also easier to tolerate for patients.”

By 2012, Henderson’s health was on a downward spiral. It wasn’t until his wife, Eleanor, did some online research and found out about a new targeted therapy that things started to look up. Targeted therapies attack specific molecules inside cancer cells or on their surface and are used to kill those cells, slow their growth or relieve some of the symptoms.

“I knew there had to be another option available. And, like that moment in 1972 when everything lined up so perfectly, I felt things were coming together for me again,” says Henderson. “I went from having tumours the size of grapefruits to having them disappear. I still have cancer – there’s no question about that, but my quality of life has improved. Some days you wouldn’t even know I had cancer.”

Lymphoma Canada – an association committed to empowering patients and the lymphoma community through education, support, and research – agrees there is reason for hope.

“Paul’s story underscores the importance of these new targeted therapies and shows other patients who are seeking treatment that there are options when battling CLL,” says Robin Markowitz, CEO, Lymphoma Canada. “We want all Canadians to learn more about this relatively unknown disease and the stories of brave patients like Paul.”

For more information on treatment for CLL, speak to your physician or visit Lymphoma.ca.

Watch the video below to learn more about Paul Henderson.

*Production supported by a registered member of Innovative Medicines Canada