By Steve Blanchard - January 09, 2023
Using Instagram, White Sox pitcher Liam Hendriks announced that doctors diagnosed him with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. While Hendriks didn’t say specifically what type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma he has, experts say that it is a manageable disease.
“The treatment now spans from tolerable chemotherapy to different forms of targeted therapy and, most recently, the FDA-approved cellular therapy,” said to Dr. Hayder Saeed, a hematologist at Moffitt Cancer Center. “We have achieved great progress in the management of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”
Hendriks was scheduled to begin treatment on Jan. 9 and said he is prepared for what lies ahead for him and his family.
“I am resolved to embrace the fight and overcome this new challenge with the same determination I have used when facing other obstacles in my life,” Hendriks wrote on Instagram.
According to Saeed, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a set of subtypes of lymphoma that can come from different types of lymphocytes including B cells, T cells or natural killer cells. Both B cells and T cells are part of the body’s immune response to diseases.
Common signs and symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma can include swelling of the lymph nodes, fever, night sweats, unexplained weight loss and lack of energy.
Treatments vary and Hendriks did not elaborate as to what type of treatment his doctors have planned. Saeed said many therapies are now provided in pill form that a patient can take at home. Side effects are typically minimal with this treatment and continuing physical activity is recommended.
“Most of the patients are surprised at how little treatment affects their daily activity,” Saeed said.
"Most of the patients are surprised at how little treatment affects their daily activity."- Dr. Hayder Saeed, Malignant Hematology program
Hendriks, 33, is a 12-year veteran playing for his fifth organization. He has been with the White Sox since 2021, saving 75 games for them over the past two seasons. He’s considered a team leader who’s extremely active in charitable causes throughout the Chicago area.
“Knowing everyone involved, especially Liam, we are optimistic he will pitch again for the White Sox as soon as viable,” said White Sox senior vice president and general manager Rick Hahn.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma has some of the best overall survival outcomes, Saeed said. However, he points out that there are still some forms of this lymphoma that are challenging to treat. Research is ongoing to find better treatments and increase hope among doctors and patients.
“The treatments we offer can put a patient in long-term remission and science is accelerating,” Saeed said. “We are seeing some encouraging approvals and success stories for newer therapies. Even for some of the incurable lymphomas, we might be thinking about cure in the foreseeable future and that gives hope to patients to continue their fight.”
Saeed said there are still plenty of misconceptions about non-Hodgkin lymphoma and its treatment. Many patients expect the nausea and vomiting that are associated with some types of treatment, but that is rarely the case with non-Hodgkin treatment, he said.
According to the American Cancer Society, the overall five-year relative survival rate for people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma is 73%, meaning that people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma are, on average, about 73% as likely as people who don’t have that cancer to live for at least five years after being diagnosed. But survival rates can vary widely for different types and stages of lymphoma.
“It can be difficult explaining the significance of stage in non-Hodgkin lymphoma,” Saeed said. “Stage 4 is not the same that they hear of in some other solid tumors. We have possible cure rates of up to 60% and more in some subtypes of stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”
While Hendriks and the White Sox are optimistic that he will return to the mound, the team is focused on supporting the pitcher in every way possible.
“We all will do everything in our power to support our teammate and his family as they face this challenge, while also respecting their privacy,” Hahn said.