Early — Devin Duncan is used to scoring autographs from high profile celebrities.
Envied by so many teenagers and young adults, Duncan has been able to receive signatures from the likes of music pop sensation Taylor Swift, former Major League Soccer player David Beckham and the Jonas Brothers. She even sung on stage during one of their concerts a few years ago.
“Joe Jonas told me I smelled nice,” she said with a laugh Thursday afternoon before a small group of 9- and 14-year-old Early students at the elementary campus.
The 22-year-old has been able to meet celebrities like these through the national cancer organizations that she’s been a part of. Duncan, who has beaten leukemia twice, shared her story on behalf of the Sunshine Kids, a non-profit organization that focuses on providing positive group activities and emotional support for young cancer patients.
Put on by the school district’s Afterschool Center on Education program, Duncan, who is scheduled to graduate with a bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin next month, spoke to the elementary and middle school students for 30 minutes in attempts to provoke perseverance when going through tough times, even at a young age — whether it’s “not doing well on a paper or struggling with your homework.”
“Everybody goes through hard times,” Duncan said. “I had a hard time with math growing up. That was my struggle.
“But you have to remember that fighting battles is not something only cancer patients or sick kids and adults go through. You guys can do something special every single day. If you can tell someone something nice every day, I promise it’ll make you feel a lot better.”
Duncan, a Houston native, was first diagnosed with leukemia at age 3, when she first got involved with Sunshine Kids. It was also when she met Houston Astros legend Craig Biggio, who has been helping raise money for the organization the past two decades
Biggio, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in June, was able to take Duncan and three other Sunshine Kids to the ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“I’ve gotten a lot of perks from out of this,” Duncan said.
Duncan was diagnosed with leukemia again when she was 17, her senior of high school. Though she was homebound and had teachers come to her home for school services and kept up with her studies.
“I didn’t let it affect my life that much,” said Duncan, who beat the disease for the second time when she was 19. “You may not have a say on what life throws at you, but you do control how you handle it.”
Duncan was still able to enjoy her final year, culminating in winning homecoming queen.
“I still have that crown. I wear it every once in a while,” said Duncan, who has also served as a spokesperson for entities like Snowdrop Foundation, Angels in Action, Teen Cancer America and Teenage Cancer Trust.
“She cheered up other people when they were having a bad day,” said Early ACE coordinator Debbie Hagood. “She uses her voice nationally and locally.”
Nearing the end of a short Q&A with a handful of students — “How tall is Taylor Swift?” “What did she say to you?” — Duncan was surprised with a dozen roses and a piece of home décor.
After providing her John Hancock to a female student, the rest of the young group returned the favor and formed a line to render their on the back of Duncan’s décor item.
“She was giving an autograph and now she’s getting a lot of them,” Hagood said.