Liam Hendriks Beat Cancer. His Next Challenge: Getting You to Boo Him Again


“I’m getting better at it,” Hendriks says, “dealing with—I shouldn’t say adoration…” He trails off. “It’ll be interesting here in this next series, because it’ll be the first time that I’m active on the road. Yankee Stadium is not exactly the friendliest of places. If they start cheering, it’s going to be weird for me. Because I usually get booed.”

This journey started a year ago, in June 2022, when Hendriks noticed a lump on the back of his neck. “Didn’t think anything of it,” he says. Then another popped up under his chin, another on the side of his neck. Once his wife Kristi saw them, she urged him to see a doctor. Hendriks had a blood test, and it came back clean. “Perfect,” he thought. “It’s probably just stress.”

Toward the end of the season, though, his body started breaking down. He was used to pitching with pain: throughout his career, he’d had surgeries on his knee, elbow, and spine, and those areas would flare up from time to time. Now, though, all three were flaring up at once. “This was more [pain] than I’m used to,” he says. “I would throw, get the ball back, then I had to wait 10 seconds before I could really move too much.”

After the season, Hendriks noticed the lumps were still there. In the fall, a doctor recommended more tests. This time, they showed he had lymphoma. Hendriks underwent a full-body PET scan, to see if the cancer had spread. “They put radioactive sugar into you,” he says, “and the sugar shows up as black spots.”

Hendriks pulls out his phone and finds a picture of the scan. There were black spots all over. He thought the scan looked like the family’s dalmatian—Olive, a rescue dog found in the woods behind a fire station. Given the size of some spots, it seemed likely he’d been pitching with cancer all season, and maybe even part of the season prior, too. The official diagnosis: Stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“That was one of the harder days,” Hendriks says. The news hit his wife particularly hard. “For a week straight, she woke up in the middle of the night sobbing.”

Hendriks tried to keep a positive mindset. It had gotten him this far. For much of his 20s, he had actually been a so-so pitcher, bouncing around teams, going back and forth between the majors and the minor leagues. “Lacked confidence,” he says. He didn’t think his stuff was good enough. He pitched tentatively.

At one point, his career appeared to be on the brink. Then Hendriks started working with Rubi Sandoval, a tarot card reader and mental coach that his wife found on Instagram. She helped him change his thinking: remove the expectations, the anxiety. Just pitch. “I got in my head that no matter what happened, I was better than the hitter,” he says.

His new mindset made him a whole new pitcher. Hendriks started attacking hitters, throwing as hard as he could, screaming and cursing on the mound. In 2021, the White Sox signed him to a three-year, $54 million contract to be their closer. In the first two seasons, he made back-to-back All-Star games, saved 75 games in 85 chances, and eviscerated hundreds of batters.

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Liam Hendriks Beat Cancer. His Next Challenge: Getting You to Boo Him Again

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