Hendrick still racing 20 years after leukemia diagnosis

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If you want some context to life, death and the role attitude plays in both of them, here you go.

On Nov. 17, 1996, NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick’s life changed forever, when he was first diagnosed as suffering from chronic myelogenous leukemia.

At the time, Hendrick was 47 years old and he was told that 95 percent of the people his age with a similar diagnosis died within two years of their cancer being detected.

Obviously, Hendrick beat the odds.

In 2009, I caught up with Hendrick at the premiere of the film, “Together: The Hendrick Motorsports Story.”

After the screening of the movie, Hendrick and I spoke in the lobby and I asked him about how he managed to get through battling the disease, which included a yearlong regimen of  Interferon and chemotherapy, which left him debilitated.

“The first thing I thought when the doctor told me (about the mortality rate) was, ‘Why can’t I be one of the 5 percent (who survives)?” Hendrick told me then.

In a press conference Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway with fellow championship-contending team owners Roger Penske and Joe Gibbs, Hendrick talked briefly about his diagnosis of 20 years ago.

“For me, I’d love to win it,” said Hendrick of Sunday’s championship race,  in which Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports will be one of four drivers battling for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. “I’d like to see Jimmie get No. 7.

“But I’m just happy to be here, ‘cause 20 years ago yesterday, I was diagnosed with leukemia,” Hendrick said. “And I didn’t have much of a shot. And these guys sitting right here (Penske and Gibbs) did a lot to try and find a (bone-marrow) match for me. I get to publicly thank you for that.”

Hendrick said win or lose on Sunday, he’s enjoying the moment.

“I’m just taking it like this is a great opportunity,” said Hendrick. “We made it to the finals and we’re going to give it everything we’ve got. Somebody’s going to come out of here the champion, and at least we have a shot.”