Lauren Hill: Rest in Peace

By Dave Andrusko

Lauren Hill (CARRIE COCHRAN/AP)

Lauren Hill with Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt. Lauren received the Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award.

Lauren Hill has died. The 19-year-old Mount St. Joseph student, who fulfilled her dream of playing in a college basketball game in spite of a viciously aggressive brain cancer, inspired millions with her “never give up” attitude.

She sure inspired me.

Brooke Desserich, the co-founder of Lauren’s nonprofit foundation, The Cure Starts Now, told The Associated Press that Lauren passed away this morning. Thanks to Lauren’s unflappable courage, more than $1.5 million was raised for research.

As NRL News Today readers know, as a high school senior, Lauren was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma. This very rare brain tumor is inoperable, but even chemotherapy treatments could not prevent Lauren from playing on her high school team.

Working with AP reporter Joe Kay, Dan Benjamin, her college coach, wrote a tribute published two days ago.

Let me zone in two statements of a man who, like so many of us, was profoundly affected by Lauren’s grace under pressure.

First, “Why has her story caught on?”

I think it’s her spirit, her personality. You’ve got to be around her. I keep telling people that once you get around her, you’ll know what I mean. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a spirit of never giving up.

When she walks into a room, the room lights up. And that happened even before it went public and she got all the attention. Also, she’s unselfish and caring about everybody else. She’s worried about her family, about these young kids who are not going to get the chance to grow up and do what she did playing basketball or soccer or whatever it is because of DIPG.

Second, Benjamin reflected on the prognosis, which was that Lauren would only survive until Christmas. “But that’s Lauren.” Benjamin wrote. “She’s not going to let it beat her. She beat the first deadline, and now she’s just going to keep fighting.” He went on

I describe it as bittersweet. Watching her go through the journey has been tough, knowing that she’s getting weaker, knowing that she needs us even more now.

In my mind, there’s no doubt that God put me in her life and her in my life for a reason. I’m just thankful that I’ve gotten to play a small part in helping her do such a big thing for the future of DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma) research. I keep thinking I’ve got to be there for her and her mission, which is carrying on the research to find a cure.

What struck me was how Lauren brought the best out in people. By the time the season had started last fall for Mount St. Joseph’s, her condition was rapidly deteriorating. Their opponent in the first game agreed to move the game up and the NCAA agreed.

As the New York Daily News wrote

Her first game became such an event in the Cincinnati area that MSJ’s Division III gym couldn’t accommodate all of the fans. The game was moved to Xavier University’s 10,000-seat arena — tickets sold out in less than an hour. …Hill was awarded the Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award that day, an honor normally handed out at the Final Four but was bestowed upon Hill before the season’s first game.

I watched replays of the game’s first and last baskets in tears. As Kay wrote

By the time the game came around on Nov. 2, the tumor had affected Hill’s right side so much that she had to shoot with her non-dominant hand. With Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt and an impressive cast of WNBA players on hand, Hill took a pass and made a left-handed layup only 17 seconds into the game.

Tears. Goosebumps. Applause.

She also made the last basket of the game, returning for a right-handed layup this time.

One other thought. I am the father of three adult women, so Lauren’s story has hit me particularly hard. But I was deeply moved by how the disease drew Lauren even closer to her family and to her faith. Kay wrote

While the tumor squeezed her brain, Hill squeezed back, holding onto life as tightly as she could.

“I’m spreading awareness and also teaching people how to live in the moment because the next moment’s not promised,” Hill told the AP after one of her team’s 6 a.m. practices. “Anything can happen at any given moment. What matters is right now.

“Especially after this kind of diagnosis, your perspective on life and what you value changes.”

For Hill, that meant spending time with her parents and a brother and sister, going to college, raising money for cancer research, inspiring others, and achieving her goal of scoring a basket in a game.

As Lauren told Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer last December

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.

Rest in peace, Lauren.