I’ve learned that life is really special, and that there is something good in every moment. – Lauren Hill
Teen basketball player Lauren Hill is a hero who is facing death with dignity and courage. Lauren was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer in November of 2013. She received the shocking news before the start of her senior basketball season at Lawrenceburg High School in Indiana, just six weeks after committing to play college basketball for Mount St. Joseph near Cincinnati, Ohio.
Lauren has captured the hearts of millions, working to raise awareness of the rare disease that has ravaged her body, while also fulfilling her lifelong dream to play college basketball.
Shortly after Lauren’s 18th birthday, an MRI revealed an inoperable pediatric brain tumor called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG). Lauren’s prognosis was two years at best, amounting to what many would view as a death sentence. But Lauren didn’t see it that way. Since the time of her diagnosis, Lauren has been determined to live life, working to find the good in every moment. As a result, Lauren has achieved greatness.
Sure, Lauren has mentioned in interviews that she was angry for the first couple of months. She asked “Why does this happen to me? Why does it happen to anybody?” No one can fault her for that. How is a teenager supposed to cope with the knowledge that her life is going to end? Each person facing a terminal illness has to deal with it in their own way. There is no right or wrong way to handle such devastating news. For Lauren, her journey has been a triumph. She fought through her emotions early on, and in a powerful turnaround, her strength won out over fear and anger, and a hero was born.
Lauren has now told her story in countless interviews over the past year. Her situation is unbearably sad, yet Lauren has continued to show amazing strength and resolve each step of the way. Lauren spoke to the USA Today about the moment when she decided to take action:
One January night, I was having a meltdown, she begins. I asked God if I could do anything. I didn’t know what He sent me here for. I wanted to know what He sent me here for. Whatever you sent me here for, I’m ready to do.
From that moment forward, Lauren knew what she needed to do. She teamed up with The Cure Starts Now Foundation to help bring awareness to DIPG. The Club 22 (named after Lauren’s jersey number) campaign was launched to help raise money that is desperately needed for research. Lauren has challenged America to join Club 22 and make a monthly pledge to help fight childhood cancer.
Lauren’s determination to play college basketball while fighting her illness, made national headlines. Shortly before the college season was set to begin in October of 2014, Lauren received bad news from her doctors. An MRI revealed that her tumor had grown, and she was not expected to make it until Christmas.
An inspiring event would somehow develop from the grim news. Many people rushed to Lauren’s aid, working together to see to it that her dream of taking the court at the collegiate level would come true. The NCAA granted Mount St. Joseph University a waiver to open the Division III basketball season two weeks early so Lauren could play. The Hiram Terriers graciously gave up a home game so Lauren’s home crowd could attend. The event quickly grew, making a change of venue necessary. Xavier University opened their doors, assuring it to be a grand event. Over 10,000 tickets sold out in less than an hour.
Lauren scored the game’s first basket in her team’s 66-55 victory on that special afternoon. The packed house roared as Lauren drove to the basket, making a left-handed layup. At that given moment, Lauren’s basket was not just a layup, it was a shot heard around the world.
Lauren went on to play in three more games, hitting a total of five layups, all helping to bring more attention to Club 22. As her symptoms worsened, she was forced to retire from the sport she loves. She was named honorary assistant coach and was with her team whenever possible for the remainder of the season. She was grateful to have her team join her in her hospital room for a party after their final game, capping off a season filled with many mixed emotions.
Lauren’s left-handed layups were significant because she is a natural right-handed shooter. She was forced to practice using the left side of her body due to muscle loss and weakness in her right side. Her layups inspired the “layup for Lauren” challenge. The rules are simple. People have been asked to record themselves making a layup with their non-dominant hand. Before doing so, participants must spin around five times. You see, not only did Lauren have to adjust to her left hand to make her layups, she also had to struggle with bouts of dizziness. So the challenge gives just a glimpse of what Lauren faced when she took the court. If you make the shot, show your video on social media and challenge others. If you miss, you have to donate $10 to The Cure Starts Now. Learn more about this challenge at layup4lauren.org.
Over the past several months Lauren has been awarded several accolades, as her health continues to steadily decline. Lawrenceburg High School has retired her jersey, and she has received an honorary doctorate from Mount St. Joseph University.
Last month, Lauren was named to the first team of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference. Conference commissioner Chris Ragsdale announced that the award was “presented to Lauren in recognition of her courage and outstanding leadership.”
Upper Deck joined Lauren’s fight to help raise awareness and money by creating a Lauren Hill rookie card, with all proceeds going to The Cure Starts Now Foundation.
Even in the late stages of her illness, Lauren has mustered the strength to continue speaking out. She wants to be remembered as a person who never gave up. Anyone who has followed Lauren’s story knows full well that the word quit is not in her vocabulary. She appeared on “The View” late last month to educate viewers once again about DIPG. Co-host Whoopi Goldberg asked Lauren why she has dedicated the final months of her life to helping other children instead of focusing on her own struggles. “Because it’s kind of hard to just focus on you and not on others,” Lauren said. “With this disease there’s nothing they can do… and I just kept thinking about all these other kids, and I have to be their voice.”
Lauren was physically weak during the interview and often closed her eyes to shield them from the bright lights. It was clear that the event was exhausting for her. But she pressed on, all with the hope that she could help others. When the national interview ended, a local TV station was there to record a message from Lauren. She discussed candidly how hard it has been to deal with her disease. She informed viewers that walking had become very difficult and that she was frustrated by the inability to take care of herself without assistance. At the end of her message, in a heart-wrenching moment, Lauren teared up, laid her head on her mom’s shoulder and lightly said, “I hope they donate.”
Lauren’s family signed her up for hospice in December of 2014. She has outlived her doctors’ prognosis by over three months but her condition has changed drastically since she played her first college basketball game. According to a recent Facebook update, she is now sleeping 12 hours a day and is losing her appetite. The update goes on to say that Lauren continues to be in good spirits, as she looks forward to celebrating Easter. She is pictured smiling, wearing bunny ears and glasses.
I have visited Google to search Lauren’s name often over the past few months. Her story has affected me for reasons I really cannot explain, other than the fact that I am a father. There are heartbreaking stories online every day that I often pass by without a click. That was not the case when Lauren’s story appeared on my Facebook feed. For some reason that day, I immediately clicked the link, leading me to view an interview with Lauren and her family on YouTube that stopped me in my tracks. I spent the rest of the day reading everything I could find on Lauren’s story.
Lauren’s fight with cancer has led me to reflect on my own life. My wife and I have been blessed with three healthy children. Our daughter shares similarities to Lauren. She is Lauren’s age, and much like Lauren, she loves the game of basketball. She began playing the game at an early age, and dreamed of growing up to play college basketball. That dream came true. Her Division III college basketball team recently completed a great season. We could not be more proud of her.
I cannot even begin to imagine if one of our children were in Lauren’s situation. I cannot imagine what her parents are going through as they see their daughter slipping away. Stories like these quite frankly scare the hell out of me. The cause of DIPG is unknown, meaning it can happen to anyone’s child at any time. I can only hope that my wife and I would find the strength shown by Lauren’s parents if we were ever to face the prospect of losing one of our children.
I have been amazed to see Lauren continuously putting others first when she talks about her plight. Somehow, she has made peace with the fact that she is going to die, and her focus has turned to those she will leave behind. She has repeatedly spoken of not wanting her family to be in pain. Lauren summed it up well in one interview, stating: “Nobody should have to go through this. Nobody should be told their child has a limited time to live.”
If you ask any parent what is most important to them, they will tell you unequivocally that their children top the list. So why is childhood cancer so underfunded? According to The Cure Starts Now Foundation, we spend 3-5 times the amount of research money per patient on most adult cancer cases than we do on children with cancer.
DIPG is very rare, with 100-150 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States. This means that hundreds of families are currently facing the challenge of dealing with this cruel disease, just as Lauren’s family is doing now. Unfortunately, the rarity of this cancer has caused it to go mostly unnoticed. A YouTube search for “DIPG” returns dozens of videos celebrating the young lives lost to this dreaded disease. The videos are very difficult to watch. In one article I read, Lauren’s mom Lisa described DIPG as a monster stealing children from their families. Lauren has now shined a bright light on that monster. It is time for it to be conquered.
We can and we must do more. Lauren has done incredible work to spread the word. To date, her efforts have raised more than $1.5 million to fight pediatric cancer. Before learning about Lauren’s story, I had never heard of DIPG. Lauren now needs others to carry on the mission to find a cure. Lauren dreams of becoming the next Susan G. Komen. Komen died of breast cancer in 1980 at the young age of 33. A foundation in her name has now raised nearly 1.5 billion dollars for breast cancer research. Breast cancer survival rates are now reaching upwards of 80%, while the survival rate for DIPG remains at 0%.
As I remain drawn to search for the latest updates on Lauren, I have asked myself why I continue to do so. Am I merely looking to see if Lauren’s battle continues or is it for something more? I have come to realize that I am searching with the hope that Lauren has given another statement or interview. Every time Lauren speaks, providing inspiring words of courage and hope about her own life, she is also giving us all great advice about how we should be living our own lives. We can all learn from her message. We often take many things for granted as we rush through our busy lives. The madness of daily life keeps us from focusing on our mortality. The reality is, we are all going to die. That is a fact of life. Not knowing when our final day will come should not prevent us from absorbing Lauren’s wisdom. Wouldn’t the world be a little brighter if we all lived everyday knowing that life is really special? Wouldn’t our days be more fulfilled if we all worked a little harder to find the good in every moment?