Once a hero, always a hero

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:07 PM ET

It is a drizzly Tuesday afternoon, the 38th anniversary of the most historic moment in Canadian sports, and Paul Henderson is running around between appearances and interview requests.

Year after year, every time Sept. 28 rolls around, Henderson becomes a man in demand. It has been that way each Sept. 28 for almost four decades, dating back to his memorable series-winning goal against the Soviet Union’s Vladislav Tretiak in Game 8 of the famous Summit Series back on Sept. 28, 1972.

This particular morning starts with an appearance on Canada AM. Also on the agenda: Radio spots with stations in Calgary and B.C., and a sitdown with The National, among others. It’s all part of the deal.

Only this Sept 28 is a bit different.

This Sept 28, between speaking engagements and autograph sessions, Henderson has had to squeeze in an important appointment from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

His weekly cancer treatment.

You would think such a slap of reality would dampen Henderson’s spirits, a sobering wake-up call for a man who will always be considered one of this country’s sporting immortals.

But there will be no such self-pity on what should be a day of celebration, a day to remember The Goal. His Goal. That is not what Paul Henderson is all about.

“Every one of these anniversaries is special but we’re planning a huge celebration for (Sept. 28, 2012), the 40th anniversary,” Henderson says. “I hope I’m around for it.”

He’s referring to the cancer, right?

“I’m not worried about that,” Henderson laughs. “I’m just hoping I don’t get hit by a truck while crossing the street between now and then.”

A man who can laugh at his own mortality.

It has been almost a year since Henderson first was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia last November. He kept the news under wraps for three months, finally revealing his condition during a nationally televised interview.

“I plan on fighting this thing head on,” Henderson said at the time.

That’s exactly what he’s done, albeit in non-conventional fashion.

“I haven’t started chemo and frankly, it’s something I want to avoid,” Henderson explains. “I’m taking the ‘holistic’ approach, trying to beat this thing through natural outlets.

“The goal is to build up my immunities.”

To that end, sugar is a no-no in his strict diet. So, too, are yeast, dairy and pork products, among others.

He still works out hard and keeps a busy schedule. Too busy at times, he was told Tuesday during his noon-time visit with the cancer specialist.

“The trouble is, I can’t just sit around. I’m a proactive person. I’m starting to listen though.”

Not on this particular Sept. 28, though. Too much going on. There’s a goal to celebrate.

“I love every part of today,” he says. “It’s obviously flattering how many people remember the moment.

“Every day I wake up I ask myself: “Did I really do that? Did I really score that goal? Of course, I still play the video now and then. And you know what? Every time I watch it, I score. The puck goes in every time,” he jokes. “The one thing the cancer has done — it has helped differentiate what is important and what is trivial.”

Henderson politely excuses himself. He is pressed for time. What is important at this very moment is his scheduled appearance in 20 minutes at Dundas Square, where former NHLers like Curtis Joseph are participating in the Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer event in support of cancer research at Princess Margaret Hospital.

“I’m wearing a suit so I don’t think I’ll be playing too much,” he says.

As part of his therapy, Henderson says he no longer flies. He claims he hasn’t taken an airplane since he and Darryl Sittler went on a trip to Israel in February.

Wait a minute. Didn’t he fly back from Victoria on

March 2, the day after Sidney Crosby’s Olympic-winning goal?

“You are right,” he chuckles. “See, you forget things when you have cancer and had six concussions.

“That’s what I blame everything on now — the cancer and the concussions.”

Paul Henderson is laughing again, probably at his own mortality.

Once a hero, always a hero.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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