I was driving to speak near Cincinnati this week when I saw a sign for the exit for Lawrenceburg, Indiana. I immediately thought of one of the bravest and most inspirational people in America today — Lauren Hill.
I have been following her story closely for months as she has inspired tens of thousands.
As a tall, athletic 12th grader at Lawrenceburg, Indiana just a couple of years ago, Lauren committed to play college basketball for nearby Mt. St. Joseph College in Cincinnati. Weeks later, on November 12, 2013 she was feeling slow, dizzy and numb. Lauren would be diagnosed with an inoperable brain cancer in high school. As she sat there stunned, the doctors told her two years at best.
“Two years,” she tried to process. “That’s….two Christmases.”
She hoped for a miracle that senior season. She did not get one, but instead found a purpose. To battle, to inspire, and to raise a stunning amount of money to fund research for this rare form of cancer. It was during her diagnosis that the doctor said this form of pediatric cancer – Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma – needed a face.
She would be that face.
“Last January,” she told USA Today in an interview, “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.”
“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.”
She spent that Christmas with her family as a 12th grader, graduated, and entered college. The doctors then shortened her life expectation, with her not expected to make it to this past Christmas.
She had always had a dream of playing in a college basketball game. Her physical capabilities weakening, and with media attention on her growing, the greater Cincinnati area responded in a big way. Normally, a Division 3 college program like Mt. St. Joseph opens their season in late November, but with them not knowing how much longer Lauren would be able to play, they petitioned the NCAA to move their first game up to Nov. 2. Xavier University learned that and offered their 10,000 seat arena. When people heard about that, all 10,000 seats sold out in an hour.
Normally a school like Mt. St. Joseph gets a few hundred at their game. On this day, 10,000. A bit wobbly, Lauren started the game and on the first play they passed to her near the hoop. Right handed, she could not use her right arm because the brain tumor had weakened that side so much. Using her left hand, she shot a layup in for two points, causing the crowd to erupt!
She would leave the game, and come back in late and score another basket. She made it clear to the media after the game that this was not her last game, but her first. She would play in four more before having to retire as a freshman player late in the season, to help as a coach.
Fund raisers were formed. Telethons. Bake sales. Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS? Layup for Lauren was created, where peopled record themselves making a layup with their non-dominant hand after turning around 5 times. Why? Because this is how Lauren felt playing basketball while battling DIPG.
A staggering 1.3 million dollars has been raised.
One of her goals was to make it back to Lawrenceburg High School to crown her successor as homecoming queen.
She did. That’s her on the left a year before, and then a year later. The steroid treatments and other treatments had changed her physical appearance, but not her beauty.
Despite being weakened and often in pain, she has marched forward to raise more awareness, and visited many little kids battling cancer. Seeing that one was a super hero, she too donned a cape.
This past week Ohio Governor John Kasich honored her with the Governor’s Courage Award. The Governor talked to her by phone and shared their conversation: “She said, ‘I hope I’m being a good role model. I hope I’m a good example.’ Can you imagine that? I said, ‘Sweetheart, the Lord is going to honor you, you are going to wear one of the biggest crowns because of your courage, because of the fact that you are just such a special woman and such a special angel.”
She is spending more time in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital now. Her team held their season ending banquet there so that she could be with them. Rather than fancy meals and awards, they all shared sandwiches and more importantly, time together.
Mt. St. Joseph College presented her recently with an honorary Doctor of Human Letters degree, saying her determined spirit, positive attitude and love of God have taught us all valuable lessons.
I spoke last Thursday night just miles from her hometown of Lawrenceburg about life lessons from the Miracle on Ice. Afterwards, I asked a fellow how things were looking for Lauren now. He just shook his head and looked at the floor, and said softly something about it may not be long now. Everyone in that room knew her story, and everyone had been inspired by her.
Even at this stage she is not thinking of herself, but about research to stop this from happening to other young people, and about her family.
“I worry about how they’ll react to wake up the next morning and see their daughter’s not breathing,” she told a Cincinnati television station. “I just can’t imagine it. “My body is shutting down, and there’s nothing I can do.”
“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.’
To learn more about Lauren, I have put in this inspirational story by Tom Rinaldi, which leads up to her basket in her first ever college game…
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