The Post and Courier
She sits on her
grandmother's front porch, looking sophisticated with her pixie
hairstyle and a pearl necklace, as the midday sunlight catches her fair
skin and an American flag waves overhead.
Harper Drolet smiles on
cue for the painter, a family friend named Beverly Grantham Derrick.
Then, after flashing a few perfect grins for Beverly's camera, she
dashes inside as her grandmother, Carol Drolet, pauses on the banister
and clenches her forehead.
Drolet is the picture of poise and loveliness as she sits for her
photograph to be taken by family friend Beverly Grantham Derrick, who
then will paint Harper's portrait. Photos by Grace Beahm/The Post and Courier
"It's just the thought of
Beverly taking her picture because she might not be here," Carol said.
She wipes away tears, inhales deeply and takes off her black cardigan.
"I can't let her see me this way."
Harper is 10 years old and
preparing to fight a rare form of soft-tissue cancer for the second
To meet this precocious girl, a rising sixth-grader at Blessed
Sacrament School in West Ashley, it's hard to believe that those knots
of cancer have returned to her body.
That in just a few days
she's expected to spend hours hooked up to machines harvesting healthy
stem cells, and that in coming weeks she'll grow weary under the
poisonous pressure of chemotherapy.
Jamie Drolet, Harper's
father and the retail advertising manager at The Post and Courier,
teases her about not brushing her hair sometimes.
"Dad, I was bald," she
He shrugs. "She's got a
Her grandmother cries. Her
parents cry. All the adults do. Harper, instead, chooses to draw horses.
She keeps a "menu" of her equine art with prices for each sketch, some
going for as little as 55 cents. She plans to give the proceeds to a
shelter for abused horses, once she finds such a place.
A family friend donated
horseback riding lessons to Harper in December, after she finished more
than a year of chemotherapy.
Harper Drolet keeps busy
by drawing horses at her home in West Ashley. She hopes to sell the
pictures, then use the money for a shelter for abused horses.
"Unfortunately, the cancer
came back," her father says, "so that's going to have to wait."
Harper's follow-up scans in January and April looked clear, but by May
two tiny tumors—one in her left thigh and one in her mid-pelvic
region—appeared on the screen, and a mass on the back of her tongue
quickly grew to the size of a racquetball and was partially removed.
Harper returned to wing 7B
at MUSC Children's Hospital last week in preparation for efforts to
gather her stem cells. She earned a reputation during her earlier stay
there for unplugging her IV pole and wandering the halls to visit other
"I knew quite a few of
them, and a few of them, unfortunately, have passed way," Harper said
She led a drive to collect 7,000 toys for the hospital around the time
her first treatment ended. Her doctors and nurses took to calling her
"the ambassador of MUSC."
Outspoken and articulate,
Harper quickly became the local face behind fundraising efforts for
cancer patients. She took to the microphone at some MUSC charity golf
tournaments to share her story. She carried a torch in the Relay for
Life. And she went on the air for a radio pledge campaign on WEZL-FM.
Michelle Hudspeth, M.D.,
one of her primary physicians, said Harper's positive attitude never
wavered, even as tough treatments dragged on, turning her stomach and
stealing her blond hair. She even encouraged other young patients along
the way, her doctor said.
Drolet keeps busy by drawing horses at her home in West Ashley. She
hopes to sell the pictures, then use the money for a shelter for abused
She changed from,
initially, a very quiet young girl to a very talkative, very mature
young lady," Hudspeth said.
Just as Harper rallied for her hospital, local businesses rallied for
her in a flurry of fundraisers. The Sunflower Café on Ashley River Road
near the Drolets' house began collecting money in a glass jar in late
2009, and continues pulling in cash daily.
Between ringing up
customers, owner Jenny Hooker stands behind the cash register and
counts the money in Harper's jar. For each dollar, Hooker folds a strip
of baby blue or yellow paper into a ring and staples the ends together,
interlocking them in a daisy chain that she attaches to the cafe's
She calls them hugs, and
on each hug she writes a message: Joy. Good Health. Courage.
The hugs passed the $6,000
mark and now circle the restaurant six times.
"When she's all good,
we're gonna take down all these rings and wrap her all in them," said
Hooker, who updates the restaurant's marquee once a week. During
Harper's previous chemo treatments, she asked her mother to drive past
the sign on Mondays so she could see the Hugs for Harper tally.
"So Sunday afternoons I
update the sign in case she drives by," Hooker said. "…We're gonna get
This time doctors plan to
tackle the tumors with a clinical trial. After healthy stem cells are
harvested, Harper will receive an aggressive chemo cocktail several
times a week to shrink her cancer. So far, this treatment approach has
offered little evidence of success.
Harper starts with two
courses of chemo, each lasting three weeks. If the chemo treatments
shrink the cancers sufficiently, her doctors will replant her healthy
stem cells in the hope that they will take over and rid her of the
cancer. She also may require additional radiation treatment.
The process could take
close to a year, and if the doctors don't think it is going well, they
are prepared to shift to another trial procedure. Last time, she stayed
at MUSC well after her chemo treatments because her body couldn't
recover from them without help.
"I'm anticipating her
being in the hospital quite a bit," her father said.
Last week, the Make-A-Wish
Foundation sent Harper, her two sisters and her parents to Disney
World. A family friend flew them to Florida on his private jet.
Harper wanted to meet
singer Justin Bieber, but she was No. 59 on the Make-A-Wish list, she
said—too far down to guarantee that she would feel well enough to meet
him when the time came. She hopes to get that wish granted after
Harper starts chemo June
27, the day after a luau to celebrate her 11th birthday.
If you would like to make a donation to Hugs for Harper, deposit a
check made payable to Harper Drolet at any local Wachovia/Wells Fargo
Follow Harper's progress
on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hugs-for-Harper/253901732554.
Editor's note: The
article ran in the June 18 issue of The Post and Courier and is
reprinted with permission.