banner
North Carolina

UNC's Hatchell attributes beating cancer to faith, friends

Posted July 3
Updated July 4

North Carolina women's basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell says, with a little laugh, that she has spent more time at her home here in Chapel Hill in the past six months than the last 10 years. She's the first to say you can't have ups in life, without also having downs.

"I told [my husband] Sammy, I said 'Everything is just too good.' I said, and I was kidding when I said this but I said, 'You know something bad is got to be getting ready to happen,'" Hatchell said. 

The longtime women's basketball coach for the Tar Heels was having a career year in 2013. Hatchell earned her 900th win and the title of winningest active coach in women's basketball, she had the top recruiting class in the country, and above all else, she was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, cementing her status as one of the greatest coaches in the game.

"And I'm like 'oh my gosh!' You talk about getting hit by a tsunami," Hatchell said of learning she had been diagnosed with leukemia. "I had no symptoms, only thing was my white blood count was low. I mean none!"

A routine physical and blood work discovered her low white blood cell count just days before her Hall of Fame speech. Feeling fine, she kept up her typical grueling schedule of recruiting. Her routine for the past 28 years, building Carolina into one of the best programs in the country.

"I went out recruiting, the month of September I was actually home three days," said Hatchell. "I was recruiting nonstop."

A simple sore throat while out on the road took her to the doctor again – no one suspected cancer. After she took it upon herself to schedule a bone marrow biopsy, the call came one Friday night in October.

"About 8:20, 8:30 Dr. Vorhees calls me," Hatchell recalled, "and he said 'Coach', he said, 'the preliminary results are that you have AML, acute myeloid leukemia' and I was like 'what?!' And he said 'Coach, we've got to get you in here and get our arms wrapped around this.' And I said 'like when?' and he said 'like tomorrow.' I said 'tomorrow!'

"I'm going to tell you... when you go through something like this you learn real quick who's in control and it ain't you."

Coach Hatchell's husband Sammy, a basketball coach at Shaw University, has a nickname for his wife, Cruise Director, someone always in control, taking care of everyone else. Suddenly, she had to give up the wheel.

And it happened so fast, a scheduled practice turned into a very difficult meeting at the hospital with her basketball family.

"They had just put the port in and i went down and told the players," said Hatchell. "Those kids, they mean so much to me because you don't realize how much of a part of you something is until it's taken away. Especially like that."

As it is with so many people who receive this life-changing news, success is about relationships. For Coach Hatchell, it's her relationship with faith, family and friends that kept her strong when she was feeling so weak.

"And it was hard to even have the energy to get up and walk across the room. And those days are like, 'whew, am i going to make it?' You know, I mean really, this is hard," Hatchell said. "It's hard for me to talk about this without getting emotional because from October the 12th to the middle of April, I did not spend a day or night by myself. One of my girlfriends was with me whether I was in the hospital, I was here at home."

That support system and her incredibly positive attitude helped her beat leukemia.

"The biggest part is right here it's what is between the ears," Hatchell said pointing to her head.

She never wore a hospital gown and exercise was a priority. When her hair started falling out from the chemo, and she decided to shave her head, she made it a party.

"So they shaved one side of it, flipped my hair over, I looked like a punk rocker," said Hatchell.

While the patient focuses fighting the disease, the toll cancer takes on the family can be just as painful. Her husband of 35 years and son Van tried to keep upbeat and not think about the worst.

"Tried not to," said Sammy. "I know God let's good people die too, so it was tough. It was hard but I figured if anybody could get through it, she can."

She believes her faith and those praying for her got her through it.

"It worked!," Hatchell said. "Those prayers were answered and I could feel them every day."

Hatchell and her family's outlook on life is much brighter now. She is in remission and Maddie, their golden retriever they call the daughter they never had, stays close.

"Oh when I came home the first thing she did she started licking my bald head like 'I'll make it well, I'll make it better,'" said Hatchell.

The Hatchells have an appreciation for each new day.

"You used to take for granted some things and now it's like 'wow, colors are brighter, the breeze feel better, the warmth of the sun feels better.' It's just great," said Sammy.

"I love to put the top down on my car," said Hatchell, "and maddie and I get in there. She sits over there beside me, she likes to style and profile. And we ride around. I love the feel of the air and the breeze and I've always told people the reason why Ilike convertibles, it makes me feel closer to God.

"I'm going to live the best I can and do the best I can do. And whenever He's ready for me to leave this earth, I'll leave it."

6 Comments

This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • disgusted2010 Jul 7, 1:18 p.m.

    Faith and prayer, but most of all, SCIENCE.

    — Posted by mittnfriends

    Yes, I think God is wise enough to allow doctors use the science He created.

    — Posted by ktaasmith

    Sure - let's take something concrete (i.e. science and years of cancer research) and attribute... View More

    — Posted by TJPC

    Trolls should know their place, back under the bridge.

  • TJPC Jul 7, 10:16 a.m.

    Faith and prayer, but most of all, SCIENCE.

    — Posted by mittnfriends

    Yes, I think God is wise enough to allow doctors use the science He created.

    — Posted by ktaasmith

    Sure - let's take something concrete (i.e. science and years of cancer research) and attribute it to something mystical that means something completely different for everyone...

  • ktaasmith Jul 6, 5:46 p.m.

    Faith and prayer, but most of all, SCIENCE.

    — Posted by mittnfriends

    Yes, I think God is wise enough to allow doctors use the science He created.

  • yageldawg2 Jul 6, 2:38 p.m.

    What a wonderful testimony this lady and family have. I too thank God He left her here to be a encouragement to others. Best wishes Amazing Lady

  • mittnfriends Jul 5, 12:50 p.m.

    Faith and prayer, but most of all, SCIENCE.

  • GunnyGoesBaaaarf Jul 3, 8:06 p.m.

    I really enjoyed this piece - thanks, Deborah! I've always admired Coach Hatchell, but after seeing what she's gone through, and the strength and courage she's demonstrated in her fight against the toughest opponent she's ever faced, well, I admire her even more. Great lady.

    Coach Hatchell: 100
    Leukemia: 0!!!

  • CBB: North Carolina vs. Ohio State

    Today at 1:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • CBB: UCLA vs Kentucky

    Today at 3:30 pm on WRAL-TV

  • NFL: San Diego at San Francisco

    Tonight at 8:25 on WRAL-TV

  • NFL: Panthers vs. Cleveland

    Monday at 1:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • CBB: UCLA at Kentucky

    Today at 3:15 pm on 99.9 The Fan

  • NFL: Philadelphia at Washington

    Today at 4:25 pm on 620am

  • NHL: Canes vs. NY Rangers

    Tonight at 7:00 on 99.9 The Fan

  • CBB: NC State at West Virginia

    Tonight at 9:30 on WRAL-FM

Scoreboard
Local
Final
PHI 91
CHA 109
1:00pm Today
UNC
OSU
 
4:00pm Today
MVSU
NCCU
 
7:00pm Tonight
UNCW
ECU
 
7:00pm Tonight
CAR
NYR
 
7:00pm Tonight
CHA
UTA
 
9:30pm Tonight
WVU
NCSU
 
Final
PHI 91
CHA 109
Final
ORL 94
UTA 101
Final
CLE 95
BRK 91
Final
BOS 114
MIN 98
Final
DET 100
TOR 110
Final
MIA 103
WAS 105
Final
MEM 97
CHI 103
Final
SAN 119
POR 129
Final
DEN 109
LAC 106
Final
LAL 103
OKC 104
1:00pm Today
NYK
PHO
 
7:00pm Tonight
NOP
POR
 
7:00pm Tonight
CHA
UTA
 
8:00pm Tonight
HOU
ATL
 
8:30pm Tonight
DAL
SAN
 
9:00pm Tonight
DEN
IND
 
10:30pm Tonight
LAC
MIL
 
11:00am Today
LALAF
NEV
2:20pm Today
UTEP
UTST
3:30pm Today
COLST
UTAH
5:45pm Tonight
AFA
WMICH
9:15pm Tonight
BGU
SALABAMA
Final
YOUNG 92
WILB 71
 
Final
TULA 56
JST 49
 
Final
RAD 76
SIENA 66
 
Final
BUCK 88
CASEWEST 65
 
Final
LIB 94
CPNC 65
 
Final
SCAR 68
CLEM 45
Final
CMICH 97
CONC 60
 
Final
MIAMI 44
EKENT 72
Final
GWEBB 91
HIWASSEE 71
 
Final
ODU 60
MDES 43
 
Final
BUF 88
NIAG 62
 
Final
KSU 71
NCAT 57
 
Final
FAM 65
UNF 83
 
Final
NORST 81
NARZ 62
 
Final
DART 58
NILL 55
 
Final
MORE 60
NKENTUCKY 83
 
Final
UCSB 69
SDCHR 46
 
Final
STJ 53
GAELS 47
Final
ALA 69
STILL 49
 
Final
HAMP 66
TENST 54
 
Final
TENN 61
TENT 58
Final
WMARY 86
WSHMD 46
 
Final
MERC 67
COOK 46
 
Final
FLGC 83
FUR 78
 
Final
CALST 49
SDKST 53
 
Final
MTST 68
CHAT 58
Final
NDAK 78
DICKINSON 48
 
Final
LAMON 76
LSUALEX 71
 
Final
PRIN 77
LIP 55
 
Final
LAM 80
MLGN 53
 
Final
MINN 92
SEAT 57
 
Final
LOYC 73
SUTAH 57
 
Final
SELA 81
WINT 71
 
Final
SILL 52
NO 56
 
Final
MARQ 83
ALAAM 49
 
Final
TTU 72
ARKPB 51
 
Final
DEN 84
COLST 85
Final
CREI 75
TXPA 60
 
Final
CAL 78
EWASH 67
Final
UTST 69
IDST 56
 
Final
UTEP 55
ARZ 60
Final
CHAM 63
HAW 94
 
12:00pm Today
GEOR
CHAR
 
12:00pm Today
WKENT
LOU
 
12:00pm Today
MICH
SMU
 
12:00pm Today
CIN
VCU
 
1:00pm Today
BSU
ABCHRIST
 
1:00pm Today
PROV
UMASS
 
1:00pm Today
AMER
MNTER
 
1:00pm Today
UNC
OSU
 
1:00pm Today
IUPUI
SALA
 
1:00pm Today
VILL
SYR
 
1:00pm Today
VT
CITA
 
1:00pm Today
DUQ
MLOWELL
 
1:30pm Today
FAIR
BEL
 
2:00pm Today
YALE
GTDNS
 
2:00pm Today
FD
DEL
 
2:00pm Today
PSU
DREX
 
2:00pm Today
UNCG
ELON
 
2:00pm Today
ILL
MIZZ
 
2:00pm Today
CAMP
MONT
 
2:00pm Today
LONG
PSUBEAVER
 
2:00pm Today
HOU
SCST
 
2:00pm Today
FSU
SFLA
 
2:00pm Today
BING
BONA
 
2:00pm Today
RUTG
RFLSH
 
2:00pm Today
MCNST
TOL
 
2:00pm Today
JVU
TRUETT
 
2:00pm Today
GT
VANDY
 
2:05pm Today
INDST
EILL
 
2:30pm Today
BUT
IND
 
3:00pm Today
STEPH
ARTCH
 
3:00pm Today
OREG
DELST
 
3:00pm Today
Terriers
FATL
 
3:00pm Today
TXARL
HPYN
 
3:00pm Today
KU
LAF
 
3:00pm Today
ARKST
MARS
 
3:00pm Today
MEM
ORU
 
3:00pm Today
KNST
UMBC
 
3:00pm Today
NW
WMICH
 
3:05pm Today
MIZST
EMICH
 
3:05pm Today
CHIST
STJOE
 
3:30pm Today
KENT
UCLA
 
4:00pm Today
COC
DAVID
 
4:00pm Today
RIU
DET
 
4:00pm Today
UCR
HOUB
 
4:00pm Today
MURST
ILLST
 
4:00pm Today
NWST
LALAF
 
4:00pm Today
WAGN
MON
 
4:00pm Today
MVSU
NCCU
 
4:00pm Today
PITT
OU
 
4:00pm Today
TENNM
PBY
 
4:00pm Today
WYO
SOUTH
 
4:00pm Today
AFA
UCD
 
4:00pm Today
MSST
USCU
 
5:00pm Tonight
JMU
HIGH
 
5:00pm Tonight
TXST
HTILL
 
5:00pm Tonight
DRAK
ISU
 
5:00pm Tonight
SHU
UNH
 
5:00pm Tonight
SCU
NE
 
5:00pm Tonight
MSU
TXSOU
 
5:00pm Tonight
UF
WAKE
 
5:15pm Tonight
ND
PURD
 
5:30pm Tonight
SHSU
PVU
 
6:00pm Tonight
AUB
XAV
 
7:00pm Tonight
AKR
BLUFFTON
 
7:00pm Tonight
DAY
BU
 
7:00pm Tonight
UNCW
ECU
 
7:00pm Tonight
CLMB
HOF
 
7:00pm Tonight
GMAS
IONA
 
7:00pm Tonight
TOWS
LAS
 
7:00pm Tonight
MAN
MRGST
 
7:00pm Tonight
CCST
YALE
 
7:00pm Tonight
PEPP
RICH
 
7:00pm Tonight
MAR
STJOE
 
7:00pm Tonight
KYST
TEXAM
 
7:00pm Tonight
MAST
VALPO
 
7:05pm Tonight
UMKC
INCWORD
 
7:30pm Tonight
IDST
CALST
 
7:30pm Tonight
NIOWA
IOWA
 
7:30pm Tonight
SIUE
UWMIL
 
8:00pm Tonight
TEX
LBSU
 
8:00pm Tonight
TCU
TXSA
 
8:30pm Tonight
ARK
SEMIZ
 
9:00pm Tonight
NCOL
JVST
 
9:00pm Tonight
ARST
LEH
 
9:00pm Tonight
NMST
NMU
 
9:00pm Tonight
WASH
OKLA
 
9:00pm Tonight
GRCN
STED
 
9:00pm Tonight
WEBER
WLVRN
 
9:30pm Tonight
WVU
NCSU
 
10:00pm Tonight
SDST
BST
 
10:00pm Tonight
GONZ
CPSL
 
10:00pm Tonight
PAC
FRES
 
10:00pm Tonight
PORT
MNTST
 
10:00pm Tonight
CSNO
TAMCC
 
10:05pm Tonight
UTST
SDKST
 
11:00pm Tonight
BYU
STAN
 
11:30pm Tonight
UNLV
UTAH
 
Final
NJD 3
TAM 2
Final
OTT 6
ANA 2
Final
DET 1
NYI 2
Final
WIN 2
BOS 1
Final
CAL 1
DAL 2
4:00pm Today
LOS
ARI
 
7:00pm Tonight
CLB
CHI
 
7:00pm Tonight
BUF
COL
 
7:00pm Tonight
PIT
FLA
 
7:00pm Tonight
CAR
NYR
 
7:00pm Tonight
MON
OTT
 
7:00pm Tonight
TOR
PHI
 
7:00pm Tonight
NYI
TAM
 
7:00pm Tonight
NJD
WAS
 
8:00pm Tonight
MIN
NAS
 
10:00pm Tonight
VAN
CAL
 
10:30pm Tonight
SJS
STL
 
4:30pm Today
WAS
PHI
8:25pm Tonight
SFX
SDC