Her resolve, spirit and courage were celebrated Nov. 2 when she realized her dream at Xavier University’s Cintas Center. Cheered on by a sold-out crowd of 10,250 and a television audience, Lauren scored the first and last basket of the Mount’s 66-55 victory over Hiram College.
Lauren’s battle with brain cancer ended April 10. She was 19.
The Lawrenceburg (Ind.) High School graduate said at the college basketball opener that her goal was is to find a cure for cancer. She was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma shortly after her 18th birthday. The rare form of brain cancer typically affects young children ages 4 to 9.
“When I was diagnosed I remember kind of feeling lonely because nobody understood. And now that more people know about this story and the awareness of DIPG. I’m so happy that people know about it now and that we can get some research going and hopefully find that home run cure for cancer,” Lauren said.
“And even though I’m probably not going to be around to see it, it’s going to help a lot of people. And that’s why we need to keep staying with this and not end it with this game, and keep supporting research.”
An announced $40,000 was raised the day of the game for The Cure Starts Now Foundation and pediatric cancer research. In all, Lauren helped raise $1.4 million.
Dr. Mariko DeWire, Lauren’s physician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, said fundraising has allowed doctors to study DIPG more closely in the last five years. The condition is incurable.
DeWire explained what Lauren endured physically at the basketball game – that loud noises affected her balance and bright lights bothered her. The forward wore sunglasses and headphones on the bench and earplugs throughout. None of it stopped her from having a memorable day in the short time she played, or gracefully accepting a halftime award from legendary Tennessee basketball coach Pat Summitt.
“As you can see, Lauren is strong. She was going to rock it, and she did,” Dr. DeWine said. “She did more than rock it.”
You are simply and truly "AMAZING" Lauren Hill!!! Thank you for inspiring me and I'll try my best to… http://t.co/9pJyDjAiwH
— LeBron James (@KingJames) November 3, 2014
The NCAA granted an exemption for the game to be played ahead of schedule so Lauren could participate. It was an emotional day for Lions coach Dan Benjamin, who said Lauren committed to the Mount in October of 2013 and told the staff 49 days later that she had the tumor.
Coach and player bonded instantly, and then the team followed suit.
“The two biggest thing we wanted to accomplish is team and team chemistry, and Lauren helped us do that. But along the way she’s made a lot of our girls become very mature, which is apparent. That’s what you always want to do. You want your kids to understand what life’s about,” Benjamin said.
“And here instead of me teaching them, it was Lauren teaching them. She’s made a great impact on these young ladies. I think they’re going to remember this life lesson forever and hopefully they carry it out and help her carry the mission in their own lives.”
Lauren’s story inspired professional athleteslike the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James, Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman and former WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes. Said James on Twitter: “You are simply and truly “AMAZING” Lauren Hill!!! Thank you for inspiring me and I’ll try my best to match you! Congrats on your game. … You’re Awesome!!!”
The #Layup4Lauren initiative benefitting The Cure Starts Now was also a hit. Challenges were issued for people to spin five times and attempt a layup with their non-dominant hands so they knew what it felt like for Lauren to play. Bengals players Andrew Whitworth and Andy Daltonwere among the first to take the challenge; San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon and Denver Nuggets guard Randy Foye also took part.
Lauren sat with her mother, Lisa, and father, Brent, in the post-game press conference at Xavier and admitted she didn’t know how many people she had touched. Lisa Hill felt awestruck.
“I’m not even sure how all of this happened,” Mrs. Hill said. “It is absolutely amazing to see Lauren chase after her dream of playing basketball and become a voice for DIPG, and just taking her job really seriously and giving that 110 percent. I don’t know that either one of us could be any prouder of her. And we love her so much.”
Said Mr. Hill: “I think today I’m probably the proudest father on the earth. Not that I haven’t always been, but it’s just that much stronger. In just the past couple weeks it’s been amazing with all the support from everybody around the country. And we just hope and pray that we can continue this journey and help these kids coming down the road, because we’ve got to stop it.”
Lauren, who has a brother, Nate, and sister, Erin, called her college debut “amazing.” It was, she said, the best day she’d ever had more lay-ups in games before becoming an honorary coach for her team.
Lauren was honored at local sporting events, from a University of Cincinnati women’s basketball game to a Cincinnati Cyclones outing, and was featured on a Wheaties box and a NBA Live 15 cover. She also struck up a friendship with Bengals player Devon Still, whose young daughter, Leah, is battling cancer. Lauren surprised the defensive tackle with a signed jersey in November.
Lauren Elizabeth Hill, Honorary Degree Recipient
Never give up. This simple phrase is often offered as a form of support for a person to accomplish a task. Not only has the phrase given Lauren Elizabeth Hill encouragement, it has given her much strength and has become her mantra.
Lauren was an 18-year-old senior at Lawrenceburg High School when she was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), an inoperable brain tumor that robs many young children of their lives. She was shocked at the diagnosis and did not know how it would affect her life each day. Her sadness led to deep reflection and discussions with God and her parents about the direction to take. Lauren decided she was called to help others, educate people about the disease and to raise funds for research.
Through radiation and chemotherapy, Lauren never gave up her quest to play basketball and graduate from Lawrenceburg High School with her friends.
She longed to play basketball in college and had already committed to attend the Mount. Women’s Head Basketball Coach Dan Benjamin and his assistants were ready to help her live out that dream – to play one more game. But time was of the essence for Lauren, as she grew weaker and tired easily. A host of people dedicated numerous hours to handle logistics of the Mount’s first game of the season against Hiram College, moved to Xavier University to accommodate a larger crowd. On November 2, Lauren and her Lions teammates walked onto the court of the Cintas Center to the cheers and applause of over 10,000 people, many who sported t-shirts that said “Never Give Up 22.” It was a most inspiring game, with gracious and grateful players. The Hills selected The Cure Starts Now as their charity, with money going for brain cancer research at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
The fundraising continued as Lauren and her coach sent out a challenge to Layup4Lauren – spin around five times and shoot with your left hand. If no basket is made, $10 is donated to The Cure. She sent out the challenge to many – near and far – including LeBron James, players at other universities and high schools. Her goal was to raise $1 million, which was achieved on New Year’s Eve.
Lauren lives out the words of St. Elizabeth Seton: “Live well to the grace of the moment. Do your best and leave the rest to God.”
She is a hero to many, including a number of pediatricians who have learned more about what their young patients face through Lauren. Along the way, Lauren found a hero – a little boy named Luke who also suffers from a brain tumor. On her visits she wears a blue super-hero cape, with her trademark number 22. She recently presented a blue cape to Luke with the wording “Super Luke 22.”
Today it is with great pride that Mount St. Joseph University presents an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree to Lauren Elizabeth Hill for her courage to never give up, her faith in God and her respect and concern for others.
In ensuing months, Laurenwas featured in an Upper Deck rookie card and was named to the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference first team.
Lauren registered for hospice care in early December. The Hills said on Facebook that her headaches had begun flaring up more than usual and her balance issues fluctuated based on her fatigue. In early March, an entry said Lauren had increased issues swallowing but remained upbeat despite her worsening condition.