Hockey Leg­end Paul Hen­der­son 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 Lym­

*Pro­duc­tion sup­ported by a reg­is­tered mem­ber of In­no­va­tive Medicines Canada

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