A Legendary Hockey Player’s Game-Changing Diagnosis

Canadian hockey star, Paul Henderson, knows a thing or two about being in the right place at the right time. When diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), Paul was once again graced with good fortune.

Former hockey player Paul HendersonPhoto: Courtesy of Paul Henderson

For many Canadians, the name Paul Henderson brings back vivid memories of the most famous goal in Canadian hockey history. There were just seconds remaining in the final 1972 Summit Series game. Henderson had a gut feeling he could be the difference-maker and put Team Canada ahead of the Soviet Union. He dashed between opponents, took a shot that was blocked, but then took a wild stab on the rebound and scored the goal of a lifetime.

That’s not the only time Henderson’s intuition got him through a difficult moment. Four decades later, a shocking diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) changed the course of his life.

CLL is a rare but serious blood cancer that affects white blood cells and bone marrow. It is the most common form of leukemia in adults. In 2013, there were 2,465 Canadians diagnosed with CLL, and it usually occurs in people over the age of 50.

“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.”

Henderson’s doctors informed him of chemotherapy options, but he was adamant that he could battle CLL through food and diet. In rough shape, and with large tumours on his neck and stomach, Henderson was looking for an alternative option. His wife, Eleanor, started to do some research online and found out about a new targeted therapy.

“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.”

Paul Henderson during his hockey daysPhoto: Courtesy of Paul Henderson

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 about 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