Why talking about cancer is important to Hendriks

September 15th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Scott Merkin’s White Sox Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CHICAGO -- is no stranger to the idea of giving back.

As has been documented numerous times previously, Hendriks and his wife, Kristi, engaged in numerous charitable efforts throughout the Chicagoland area from the time they arrived with the White Sox via free agency prior to the 2021 season. So, the White Sox choice of Hendriks as their 2023 Roberto Clemente Award nominee comes as no surprise, with no offense meant to any of the other giving players on the roster.

But Hendriks’ third Clemente Award nomination with the White Sox and fifth overall has a different feel, because it’s been a highly unexpected, challenging and emotional sort of year for the closer. Hendriks currently is in remission after battling Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and now, he is trying to get others afflicted by this insidious illness to have normal conversations about the disease.

Hendriks has made a point to meet with people similarly affected by cancer at every home series and almost every road series since his return to the mound on May 29 in Chicago. There’s a special focus placed upon adolescent and young adult patients at his meet and greets.

“Talk about it with your friends. Say the word cancer. Say the word chemotherapy,” Hendriks said. “We need to remove that initial shudder once someone mentions the word cancer.

“We had one kid who I think was 15. He got diagnosed with cancer and all his friends thought he was going to die. That’s what you think of when you think of cancer. We need to change that perception.”

Hendriks missed the White Sox trip to Cleveland from Aug. 4-6 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, didn’t travel with the team recently to Colorado and there was one other city where his pregame meetup fell through. Otherwise, opposing teams have been great facilitators since this process began at Dodger Stadium from July 13-15. The Dodgers went above and beyond, according to Hendriks, and he tips his hat to all of the opposing teams.

These conversations also benefit Hendriks.

“You talk to people who have gone through it, and you have a similar story. It’s refreshing. It takes a load off your shoulders. It’s always nice,” Hendriks said. “One of the kids in Chicago had a tumor in his knee and showed me where they cut off the bone and cut the bone in half and showed me the tumor inside the bone. And then I was showing him my TJ scar, all the photos from that.

“It’s getting a little bit of rapport and talking normally and not treating them as something different. It’s a normal conversation but you’ve been through something similar.”

Tonight, Hendriks will team up with DJ Pauly D for a Be The Match tailgate event outside Guaranteed Rate Field prior to a contest against the Twins. The Be The Match organization is operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, which manages the most diverse marrow registry in the world and works every day to save lives through transplant.

Pauly D, the Jersey Shore star, earned major plaudits from Hendriks for his immediate commitment to help.

Even the most trying of times haven’t kept Hendriks from appreciating not just the importance of the Clemente Award nomination, but the positive attention foisted upon the topics he’s addressing.

“I know Roberto Clemente Jr.,” Hendriks said. “We’ve done some work with him in the past. It’s a great family and the legacy Roberto Clemente has left behind, it’s enduring. It’s something that I think everyone can strive toward.

“This is one of those awards where it has nothing to do with talent. It has a lot to do with compassion and giving and making sure you use your platform for good. I still get a little run down every now and then because of a lack of an immune system.

“For the most part it’s all good,” Hendriks added. “Going to have the random little freakouts when you think you feel a lump and stuff like that. That’s somewhat to be expected. …  Having those conversations, I went through this for a reason. I want to make sure I use any sort of reason I can to impart anything that can help on the next guy.”