Lauren Hill: “I said to God I’ll do anything to be a voice for this cancer and all the kids that can’t speak their symptoms”

By Dave Andrusko

Lauren Hill (Photo: The Enquirer/Liz Dufour)

Lauren Hill (Photo: The Enquirer/Liz Dufour)

Maybe it’s simply that I am the father of three daughters and the father-in-law to another, but few stories have moved me as much as the bravery, the look-truth-in-the-face courage of Lauren Hill.

Lauren is only 19, a freshman at Mount St. Joseph college who doctors say will not live past the end of this month. Her enemy is a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer–diffuse intrinsic pontine glimoma (DIPG)—which is gradually winning the fight for her body but not her spirit.

Lauren’s iron-willed determination to play in a college basketball game has met with world-wide admiration and waves of affection. That has galvanized people all over the world and led to the accumulation of more than a half million dollars for DIPG research. Her goal, before she dies, is to raise $1 million.

She played in four games—her finale was Tuesday against the College of Wooser (a 66-65 victory!). Her coach and her family announced this week that Lauren has assumed a new position—honorary coach.

After the game her family posted a Facebook message: “She stepped onto the court one last time in her college career and again fought the odds and made a basket that brought everyone in the gym to their feet. At the end of the game, she accepted a donation from Wooster toward her $1 million goal.”

Paul Daugherty writes for the Cincinnati Enquirer. Each column he’s composed about Lauren and her family has been better than the one before. He did an interview with Lauren in her home that ran this week. Daugherty will not mind, I’m sure, if I quote generously.

Lauren understands the basic fact of her situation: “My body is shutting down, and there’s nothing I can do.” But countless people have faced an imminent death. Not many have responded with the spunk, resolution, gratitude, and absolute commitment to “never give up” exhibited by Lauren.

Daugherty appreciates that the certainty, the almost time-specific nature of Lauren’s death, makes it difficult for the rest of us to imagine how we would respond in a similar situation. But he observes

She’s a model, though. If you believe each of us is here for a reason, you’ll find no better evidence than this 19-year-old, basketball-playing young woman from Lawrenceburg.

She appears to be comfortable answering an uncomfortable question: her “legacy.”

Last January, I said to God I’ll do anything to be a voice for this cancer and all the kids that can’t speak their symptoms. Parents are left baffled, because they don’t know what’s wrong with their kids. (Kids) can’t express what’s happening to them. I prayed I’d be the voice and that I’d do anything that gave me an opportunity to raise awareness and raise research money.

That was a couple months after diagnosis. The first couple months I was angry. Why does this happen to me? Why does it happen to anybody? I believe God has the last say. And I feel like I’ve accomplished what I intended.

How has all this changed her?

My values have switched around. My dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas. No material item matters to me. I just want to spend time with my family.

How can anyone get inside the head of a young woman on the cusp of death without writing more what we might think is going on than what Lauren is thinking? Read this and see how Lauren makes it clear:

“Heart, desire, intensity.” Lauren shows me a fine-marker drawing she did, of a hand holding a basketball. Those three words are intricately drawn, to form the hand and ball. “Playing to the final buzzer, not worrying about the last play or the play that’s coming. People get hung up on their mistakes. That’s what I like so much about basketball, that it’s a fast game, you can correct your mistakes so quickly. You can redeem yourself by doing something good.

Like any of us would, Lauren has to grapple with the loss of independence as her body shuts down, as she loses muscle. But it’s obvious—and deeply reassuring–that her family understands that and is constantly looking to reassure Lauren that they are there for her, ready to give her all the assistance she needs.

Daugherty concludes his superb column with a series of quotes from Lauren—about life, about God, about the family that is so precious to her, about asking for a cure, and about what people should remember:

“I ask God for a cure for cancer and that my family will be fine when and if I’m gone. They are who I worry about. My family and my friends.

“What is it like to know you’re dying? It’s like I want to get stuff done. Like I’m in a rush. People are told they have five weeks to live, and they live five years. I don’t know.

“I want everybody to know I never give up, even though I have my low moments and I feel like giving up, because they’re awful. Please, is it over?

“My family gets me back on track to my never-give-up. I just wish it would be easier. I know when I’m having a hard time, it effects everybody else.

“If I do pass, I don’t want people to say I lost. I want, ‘She kicked DIPG’s butt and raised a lot of money for research.’

“By the end of the year, (we) want to raise a million dollars. That’d be really awesome. That’d be the best Christmas present.”