DURHAM — Duke basketball fan Harper Harrell has battled cancer, raised more than $27,000 for cancer research and started her own nonprofit organization.
Harper Harrell is 10 years old.
“She is the most remarkable child I have ever met. I know every parent thinks that, and every parent is right in their own respect, but she was born special,” said Heather Hindin, Harper’s mom.
“Her cancer diagnosis and treatment, I think, was something that continued to highlight what an incredible human being she is and her compassion and heart. She’s always thinking about what she can do for other people. We make lemonade out of lemons, right?”
After 864 days of chemotherapy treatment for leukemia, Harper arrived at the end of that grueling journey on Feb. 7. That night, in celebration of her achievement, the Durham native was invited to attend the Blue Devils’ game against Notre Dame at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Harper arrived decked out in Duke gear with a sign that read: “For my end of treatment, I want a Duke win!”
The Blue Devils didn’t let her down, cruising to a 71-53 victory against the Fighting Irish. The loudest moment of the night — even louder than Caleb Foster’s alley-oop to Sean Stewart — arrived midway through the first half.
During a timeout, Harper was honored as “The Scheyer Family Kid Captain” of the game, a program spearheaded by Marcelle Scheyer, the wife of Duke head coach Jon Scheyer.
With her mother and Marcelle by her side, Harper made her way to midcourt, where a bell — which featured Harper’s nonprofit logo — was positioned to signal the end of her treatment. She rang the bell and cheers from the more than 9,000 fans in attendance reverberated off the walls inside the basketball cathedral.
“Harper’s infectious joy and immense heart has touched countless lives, including ours,” Marcelle Scheyer said.
“Joining Harper as she celebrates the official end to her fight against leukemia is the ultimate reminder that through strength, resilience and unwavering support, we can overcome anything.”
Harper’s cancer fight, fundraising efforts for V Foundation
Harper Harrell was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia – the most common form of childhood cancer – on Oct. 14, 2021. In the last two years, she made more than 100 trips to Duke Children’s Hospital.
“It feels like I’ve taken (chemotherapy treatment) every night of my life,” Harper said.
The completion of the process, Heather added, was “wild” and surreal.”
“When she was first diagnosed, it feels endless,” Heather said.
“They say it’s gonna be two-plus years and you’re so mired in it, when it comes to the end of the road, you’re like, is this real life? It’s pretty incredible. It’ll take us a little while to come to terms with it, for sure. Right now, we’re just celebrating.”
Despite the setbacks and challenges in her life, Harper wanted to go beyond her battle to help others as they face similar trials.
“I started out by selling t-shirts,” Harper said. “My mom’s actually wearing one right now.”
The shirt features: “Peace Out Cancer” and “#BraveLikeHarper.”
Heather estimates they’ve sold around $60,000 worth of shirts, including $27,000 that went to the Dick Vitale Pediatric Cancer Research Fund at the V Foundation, started by former NC State basketball coach Jim Valvano in 1993 shortly before he succumbed to cancer.
“She’s just taken this incredible obstacle and just barreled through it and has made really wonderful things happen through the pediatric fund at the V Foundation and through her advocacy for Duke Children’s and her own nonprofit,” Heather said.
“She’s never thinking about what she can do for herself. She always celebrates other people and wants to do whatever she can.”
That nonprofit is Harper’s Home, a place for families with a child in treatment at Duke Children’s Hospital.
“My nonprofit is going to create homes – basically home-away-from-home homes – in my backyard for families that travel far for treatment,” Harper said.
“We’re lucky enough to live two miles away from Duke, so we want everybody else to be able to experience that and not have to move from Texas to just get treatment. … We want people to be able to have a place to stay, where they don’t have to worry about booking anything.”
Harper’s connection with Duke basketball, Jon and Marcelle Scheyer
Harper has been to a lot of Duke games in the last two years, but it’ll be tough to top her latest experience.
When asked about her favorite players, Harper said, “I love them all, they’re so sweet to me.” She went on to name almost every player on the current roster.
“They’re all very generous,” she said. “They all visit the kids at the hospital, which I think is the sweetest thing.”
Ahead of Wednesday’s game, Harper swung by shootaround to hang out with the Blue Devils. She gravitated toward the Scheyers. In September 2022, Harper and Marcelle crossed paths for the first time at Duke’s Dribble for Victory over Cancer event.
“Ever since then, Marcelle and Jon have just wrapped themselves around us,” Heather said.
“They’ve become friends and I think they treat everybody who’s been through stuff like we have the same way. They’re just so inclusive and thoughtful. … Marcelle’s like her bestie.”
Harper, Marcelle Scheyer said, is “extra special to our family.” The work that goes beyond the basketball court is among Scheyer’s passions.
“I believe our partnership with Duke Children’s Hospital is more than just a connection, it’s a commitment to making a difference,” Scheyer said.
“The Scheyer Family Kid Captain isn’t just about supporting the team, it’s about spreading joy, inspiring hope, and reminding us all of the power of community and compassion.”
It’s something Heather hopes to see for many years to come.
“I hope (the Scheyers) are at Duke and in Durham for the next 40 years. Regardless of how long they are here, I think their legacy will truly be the amount of themselves they pour into kids at Duke Children’s,” Heather said.
“. … They’re so real, down to earth and loving. Jon, when he saw Harper (during shootaround), he was just beaming.”
Harper’s message to ‘anybody who’s fighting anything’
In addition to honoring Harper during its game against Notre Dame, Duke sent out a social media post from its official men’s basketball account on X/Twitter that read: “Harper is our hero.”
With a milestone moment behind her, as she continues to check off goals with her smile and infectious energy, Harper has a message for those facing difficult circumstances on a daily basis.
“Honestly, to anybody who’s fighting anything, you’re not alone,” she said. “I went through the same thing and there’s much love sent your way. You might think that you’re alone, but there’s people who want to give you as much as they can.”
Staff writer Rodd Baxley can be reached at[email protected] or @RoddBaxley on X/Twitter.
First appeared on www.fayobserver.com