Photo by JEFF STOKOE/Advocate staff-Paul Henderson         Josh Has story----Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Paul Henderson attended the Red Deer Regional Catholic Education Foundation Gala dinner at the Black Knight Inn on Thursday.

Photo by JEFF STOKOE/Advocate staff-Paul Henderson Josh Has story----Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Paul Henderson attended the Red Deer Regional Catholic Education Foundation Gala dinner at the Black Knight Inn on Thursday.

Henderson’s faith helps him in cancer battle

Paul Henderson has not let his cancer slow him down. The 72-year-old hockey legend has been battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia since 2009, but thanks to a risky experimental drug trial the cancer is being held at bay. What’s important though, is that with his faith he did not let the diagnosis change who he is.

Paul Henderson has not let his cancer slow him down.

The 72-year-old hockey legend has been battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia since 2009, but thanks to a risky experimental drug trial the cancer is being held at bay.

What’s important though, is that with his faith he did not let the diagnosis change who he is.

“We have learned to be thankful for the day and enjoy today, because nobody knows the future,” he said. “I’m really fortunate, I have a great wife and family and we’ve decided that cancer is not going to define us.”

On Thursday night he was at the Black Knight Inn speaking at the Red Deer Regional Catholic Education Foundation’s sixth annual fundraiser sponsorship event.

Henderson is best known for his improbable winning goal against the Russians in Game 8 of the Summit Series. The moment is etched in the minds of hockey fans across the country and being introduced to new ones on a daily basis.

But his fight now is an almost more improbable one.

Three years ago, against his oncologists advice, he flew to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD., to take part in a clinical drug trial. While he is not cured, he is as healthy as he has been since the diagnosis, even putting back on 25 pounds.

“The only option I had here was chemotherapy, but I knew my body would never handle that well,” he said. “It was a bit of a gamble. There’s 56 of us in this trial, but nobody gets a placebo and I’m really doing well.

“I still have cancer, it is not a cure, but it’s what we call sleeping with the bear. If we can keep the bear in hibernation … it’s a one day at a time type deal.”

Henderson has been a regular on the public speaking circuit for years speaking at everything from fundraisers, like Thursday, to school assemblies. Despite the cancer, he is as busy as ever.

There are two distinctly different reactions he gets, depending on the demographics of the audience.

For the older generations, he’s able to transport them back to 1972, the names, the events, the games, the stakes instantly recognizable.

When he’s in a school gym, however, it’s quite a bit different.

He’ll pole the crowd to see who’s actually heard of him before that day, and he’s noticed a shrinking minority know who he is. Those that do, it’s because their dad told them or they’ve watched the games on DVD or the Internet.

However, he still gets calls weekly from kids doing research projects on influential Canadians or moments in Canadian history.

Backing up his place in the story of this country is the numerous awards and honours he’s received, including Queen’s Jubilee award, the Diamond Jubilee award, the Order of Canada, the Canada Walk of Fame and is part of both the International Hockey Hall of Fame and the Canada Sports Hall of Fame.

“It is satisfying, it is a trip to be a part of history,” said Henderson. “I think I’ve done a lot with my life that’s very satisfying since I’ve quit hockey.”

But the game today is about as recognizable to him as his name is to the younger kids.

Everything has changed, the players are bigger, faster, stronger and paid far more money, while the game has evolved strategically and tactically.

He’s not even 100 per cent sure he could play at today’s top level, despite a pro career that spanned 19 years, split mostly between the NHL and the World Hockey Association. Between the two leagues, he combined for 1,067 games, 367 goals and 384 assists.

“In your mind you always think you could play, but you have to be a totally different hockey player today than I was in my hey day,” said Henderson. “I think I came a long at just the right time.”

He does still watch hockey, though when it’s the NHL rarely for more than a period at a time. His attention is more on minor hockey.

He and his wife Eleanor live minutes away from two of their five grandchildren in Oakville, Ont., and can often be found at hockey rinks throughout the Toronto area.

“I haven’t been to a Leafs game in four years but I’ve seen 100 of my grandsons’, my wife and I love going,” said Henderson.

His grandchildren, however, fully understand who their grandfather is and what his goal meant for Canada and the game.

“The 14-year-old (Alton) always wore 19 and he has a younger brother (Logan) who’s 10, and we thought he’d want to wear 19 too, like his big brother, and on his own, he said ‘No I want 72,’” said Henderson, who also wore 19 during his playing career.

He has a picture of the two in their jerseys with their backs turned, spelling out 1972 in their numbers that has a prominent place in his den, his “Soul Space.”

His home life is a busy one.

For the past 31 years he has been running a ministry called Leader Impact that helps people find their spiritual roots — a group that has spread from three people in Toronto to 45 cities in three different countries. Meanwhile he and his wife also regularly speak at marriage seminars, something he proclaims to be an expert in only because of the mistakes he has made over the last 52 years, “so I can tell people what not to do,” he said with a laugh.

The doctors have not given Henderson a prognosis for how long he has left, and his legacy is secured in Canadian history books. But he is still focused on getting the most out of what time he has left.

“I want to finish well,” he said. “There’s so many people that start off and do a great job but then they screw up down the road, and there’s nothing worse, it’s tragic.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This unicorn was stolen from the small community of Delia, northeast of Drumheller on Friday and was recovered, with its bronze horn broken off, on Saturday. RCMP are looking for information on the suspects.
(Photo from RCMP)
Unicorn statue stolen from Delia recovered

Statue found with horn broken off in field about 15 km from Delia

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a news conference at Rideau cottage in Ottawa, on Friday, March 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Liberals to release federal budget with eye on managing crisis, post-pandemic growth

OTTAWA — The federal government will this afternoon unveil its spending plans… Continue reading

Patches are seen on the arm and shoulder of a corrections officer in the segregation unit at the Fraser Valley Institution for Women during a media tour, in Abbotsford, B.C., on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. Correctional Service Canada says three inmates at Fraser Valley Institution recently tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Drumheller Institution inmate dies in custody

Inmate’s April 15 death under investigation

In this image from NASA, NASA's experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s experimental helicopter Ingenuity rose into the thin… Continue reading

In this August 21, 1994 file photo, Rwandan Hutus give the departing French troops the thumbs-up as the French army pull out of Cyangugu, in southwest Rwanda. A report commissioned by the Rwandan government due to be made public on Monday, April 19, 2021 concludes that the French government bears "significant" responsibility for "enabling a foreseeable genocide" that left more than 800,000 dead in 1994 and that that France "did nothing to stop" the massacres. (AP Photo/Jean Marc Bouju, File)
Rwanda report blames France for ‘enabling’ the 1994 genocide

PARIS — The French government bears “significant” responsibility for “enabling a foreseeable… Continue reading

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

In this Feb. 24, 2020, photo, the Olympics rings are reflected on the window of a hotel restaurant as a server with a mask sets up a table, in the Odaiba section of Tokyo. The vaccine rollout in Japan has been very slow with less than 1% vaccinated. This of course is spilling over to concerns about the postponed Tokyo Olympics that open in just over three months.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
Will Japanese Olympians be vaccinated ahead of the public?

TOKYO — The vaccine rollout in Japan has been very slow with… Continue reading

PSG's Kylian Mbappe, right, greets Bayern's Lucas Hernandez at the end of the Champions League, second leg, quarterfinal soccer match between Paris Saint Germain and Bayern Munich at the Parc des Princes stadium, in Paris, France, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
PSG, Bayern the big names missing from Super League plan

DÜSSELDORF, Germany — The plan for the new Super League soccer competition… Continue reading

In this image released by Paramount Pictures, Marion Cotillard, left, and Brad Pitt appear in a scene from "Allied." (Daniel Smith/Paramount Pictures via AP)
Leo Carax’s ‘Annette’ to open Cannes Film Festival

Leo Carax’s “Annette,” starring Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver, will open the… Continue reading

From left, Producer Doug Mitchell, actor Chris Hemsworth and director George Miller attend at a press conference to announce the new "Mad Max" film at Fox Studios Australia in Sydney, Monday, April 19, 2021. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)
‘Mad Max’ prequel shot in Outback to be released in 2023

SYDNEY, Australia — A prequel to the “Mad Max” movie franchise starring… Continue reading

In this Feb. 1, 2021 file photo, emissions from a coal-fired power plant are silhouetted against the setting sun in Independence, Mo. President Joe Biden faces a vexing task as he convenes a virtual climate summit on Thursday. He is expected to present a nonbinding but symbolic goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that will have a tangible impact not only on climate change efforts in the U.S. but throughout the world. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
Biden pressed on emissions goal as climate summit nears

WASHINGTON — When President Joe Biden convenes a virtual climate summit on… Continue reading

Women wearing masks wait near an advertisement ahead of the Auto Shanghai 2021 show in Shanghai on Sunday, April 18, 2021. Automakers from around the world are showcasing their latest products this week in the world's biggest market for auto vehicles. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
VW, Ford unveil SUVs at China auto show under virus controls

SHANGHAI — Volkswagen, Ford and Chinese brands unveiled new SUVs for China… Continue reading

Investigators from the Vancouver Police Department were in Chilliwack Saturday, collecting evidence connected to a double homicide. (file photo)
Police investigate shooting death of man outside downtown Vancouver restaurant

Vancouver police say one man was killed in what they believe was… Continue reading

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start registering people 18 years and older for COVID-19 vaccines

VICTORIA — The British Columbia government says it’s inviting people 18 years… Continue reading

Most Read