College basketball player Lauren Hill, who became a national symbol of strength and a cancer advocate during her own battle with the disease, has died. Before her death in the hospital on April 10, the 19-year-old college freshman led fundraising efforts to battle the disease, raising $1.5 million in donations through her foundation, The Cure Starts Now.
While a senior in high school, just one and a half years ago, Hill decided to concentrate on basketball, even though she preferred soccer, in order to sell herself better to colleges. She decided to go to Mount St. Joseph’s, where she would play basketball. Several weeks later, while playing for her Lawrenceburg, Ind., high school basketball team, she began having dizzy spells while on the court. A brain tumor, caused by Diffused Intrinsic Pontine Giloma, which usually occurs in younger children, was discovered, but treatment failed. Her prognosis at that point was less than two years.
Mount St. Joseph’s asked the NCAA if they could be allowed to move their season opener up a few days so that Hill could play. As her story came out, it was clear that the gym at the college was not big enough to hold all of the people hoping to come. After moving the game to Xavier University’s arena, all 10,000 tickets sold out in under an hour. Hill’s first appearance as a college basketball player was in front of a standing-room-only crowd. Before the game, in the presence of Pat Summitt, a legend in women’s basketball, Hill was honored with the Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award, which is usually given at the Final Four.
Because the tumor had already begun to affect the mobility of her dominant right side, Hill was forced to lay up left-handed, but scored the first points of the game. She eventually managed to pull off a layup with her right hand, and scored the final basket of the game.
After the basketball game, Hill said that being able “to play on a college court” was “a dream come true.” She added that the entire day had been “amazing,” saying, “I’m truly happy.” Her positive attitude and quiet strength inspired both those who knew her and those who knew of her. Before her death at 19, Hill became an advocate to raise awareness of the fight against cancer as well as to spread the message to “live in the moment because the next moment’s not promised.”
In all, the freshman was able to play in four games, scoring 10 points, after which her condition worsened. She suffered an increased insensitivity to sound and light and was occasionally confined to a wheelchair. In December, she entered hospice care. During the team’s yearly awards banquet, her teammates came to her hospital room to ensure that she would be part of it.
It is reported that Mount St. Joseph’s presented Hill with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. The February 6 ceremony was private and only family, friends and teammates were present. Hill spoke to WKRC that day, saying that although she was not afraid to die, she was “scared for everybody else, like my family and how they’ll handle it. And it will be fine.”
Mount St. Joseph’s held a vigil on the afternoon of April 10 to honor Hill. Tributes have poured in from politicians, professional athletes and sports teams, as well as those who were personally touched by Hill’s advocacy for cancer research and by her bravery itself in the face of her condition, which has caused her death at 19.
By Jennifer Pfalz
Photo courtesy of The Cure Starts Now Facebook page