TORONTO - “There are signs of it getting worse.” — Paul Henderson on his cancer
This Canadian hockey hero knows all about do-or-die situations.
Paul Henderson has come out on top before.
But the 69-year-old star of 1972 has a big decision to make concerning how to battle his rare form of leukemia.
“It’s either chemotherapy or a clinical trial,” he said in an interview.
This September, it will be 40 years since he scored the goal heard around the world against the old Soviet Union giving Canada the Summit Series win in 1972.
In November, it will be 50 years since he made “his greatest move” and married wife Eleanor.
He’d like to be around to celebrate both — and a lot of other things he is grateful for.
“But I have to admit the tumours are not getting any smaller,” he said. “The cancer is now in my stomach, chest and lymph nodes.”
Some would argue it’s a death sentence but Henderson’s tackled big odds before.
Like the big red machine, this doesn’t scare him either.
“I have my bad days but I still feel pretty good to be honest with you. Everyday I get up and count my blessings,” he said of his wife, three daughters and seven grandchildren. “I am most lucky that I married the greatest women in the world in Eleanor. She has had a positive impact on me and together we have tried to be mentors for other people and their marriages.”
To the rest of the country, he’s the hero of 1972 where he scored the winning goal in the final three games to pull off the dramatic comeback.
At home he’s a husband, dad and granddad.
“It was a great experience being part of that team and I am also very satisfied with my life after 1972, as well,” he said. “The best part of scoring that goal is hearing from the people of how much that goal meant to them.”
There have been some big Canadian hockey goals since — scored by Darryl Sittler, Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby — but there’s still nothing quite like the one Henderson scored on Sept. 28, 1972. And there are a lot of people who would like to see the guy who wore Number 19 get a permanent and lasting recognition — whether it be a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame and The Order of Canada.
“This guy is in the stratosphere of Canadian icons and it’s baffling to me that we have not done something more significant to honour him,” said hockey historian Liam Maguire, who said he “picked up the mantle” from Corus radio talkshow host Roy Green who ran a campaign in 1999.
The fact that Henderson is battling what is considered a terminal form of cancer, Maguire has met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Hockey Hall of Fame officials urging for consideration.
“If ever a guy deserves it, it’s Paul,” said Maguire. “As a fan who was 13 years old and lived through all of that in 1972, I would sure like to see it happen.”
For his part, Henderson, who is a strong Christian, seems a little embarrassed when people trumpeted all his accomplishments and seek accolades for him.
“Pride is about the ugliest trait somebody can have,” he said. “It was a team thing but I do appreciate what people have done and I would be a great honour to receive the Order of Canada. But I don’t wake up every day thinking about it. I am happy with my life.”
In fact, instead of thinking about that, over the next couple of weeks he will be tuned in to watch the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils battle it out for the Stanley Cup.
“I will be following it closely,” he said. “I did not pick either team to get there so I won’t predict a winner but will predict it will be a close series.”
Henderson said he counts every day, before he had cancer and since, as a gift.
“If I died today, I’d feel so blessed,” he said.
But, as the Russians found out in 1972, don’t count Henderson out just yet.