“If I’m gonna go out, I’m gonna go out on my terms.”
This was Liam Hendriks’ mindset in 2018 as he fought his way back into the league after being DFA’d for a fifth time.
It was his mindset in 2022 as he fought through eight rounds of chemotherapy to treat Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
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On Wednesday night, the White Sox’ closer accepted the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 2023 ESPYs — an honor given each year to a sports figure who “overcame great obstacles through physical perseverance and determination.”
“Cancer changes you,” Hendriks said in his speech. “There’s no doubt about it. Going through this, it changed me for the better. There’s a lot of times where I’m sitting out here thinking about what I could have done differently in my life leading up to this moment. Everything in life is short. Life, it’s just trivial. Things are just trivial when you go through something like this.
“I was 33 years old when I got diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Not exactly the offseason I had planned. But it is what it is, and all you can do is tackle it and advance.”
The closer unknowingly pitched almost all of 2022 with cancer and then returned to Major League Baseball less than five months after his diagnosis. But despite accepting an award for “physical perseverance and determination,” Hendriks argues his remarkable comeback had nothing to do with physicality.
“I didn’t feel too many symptoms, but I had some lumps around. It just shows you the power of the mind. When you don’t think anything’s wrong and you believe that you can do anything, you can do anything. I was throwing 100 miles an hour while going through Stage 4 lymphoma. And then coming back after doing eight rounds of chemotherapy and four rounds of immunotherapy. Came back and was able to get out there and throw 96 miles an hour.
“That isn’t physically who I am. That’s all mental.”
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Hendriks has said before that out of everyone he knows, he believes he was the most emotionally equipped to handle battling cancer.
Hopefully no one he knows ever has to prove otherwise, but it seems safe to take him at his word.
Watch Hendriks' full acceptance speech here.