Lauren Hill (1995-2015)
CINCINNATI (Brad Johansen) - Local 12 introduced you to Lauren Hill just after her 19th birthday, at the impromptu post practice surprise party.
"When I got home I told my parents I wanted to wear it under all my clothes because it makes me feel strong. Like to stay strong like I was back then,"
Lauren said about wearing her high school uniform with the #22 on the back.
The "back then" was her as a Lawrenceburg High School Tiger.
Basketball had become her passion, but only because her soccer coach cut her as a goalie in her senior year-- after not allowing a goal her junior year.
She wrote a paper for English 101 entitled "When Everything Changed."
So basketball it was.
And on her 18th birthday she committed to play at Mount St. Joseph.
"I said, 'Oh, I gotta make a memory on my birthday.' I called the coach and said 'I'm coming to the Mount to play.'"
The terminal diagnosis followed 49 days later-- Diffused Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG).
Number 22 was given two years maximum to live, "when everything changed" in the brain, but not in the heart.
"Never give up," her mother, Lisa Hill, said. "Her motto is 'Never give up.' Not that she ever did before, so it hasn't changed much. But she's still never giving up."
"I never gave up for a second, even when I got a terminal diagnosis I never thought about sitting back and not living life anymore," Lauren said.
And live she did, with purpose. Her doctor said she could be the face of DIPG, a cancer that usually strikes children between ages 5 and 8. First it didn't make sense.
But after one particularly passionate prayer session in January, it became clear to her she needed to be the voice for children who couldn't articulate the frustration and futility that she was feeling."I was desperate and I asked God that I didn't want to be another local story that disappeared and I just became another statistic on paper," she said. "I prayed that God would keep me there. And if he kept me, I would do anything that I could to be the voice for little kids."So she began her journey, holding fundraisers and speaking out about the ravaging disease inside her head. But not many noticed until basketball season approached and a new MRI. "I knew in the back of my mind it had grown," Lauren said.
"There isn't anything to say, because they can't do anything."Given until December to live, Lauren was determined to play college basketball, at least one game.
After Hiram College agreed to give up a home game and the NCAA granted an exemption, the game was moved to November 2.
"She's a special person," said her coach, Dan Benjamin. "This girl is so strong. She's dealing with death and all she's thinking about is everyone else. Her team first, her family first, and just to give that one last wish would be incredible for our program and our players.
"When Local 12 told Lauren's story, it became a goal. Not for Lauren or her coach and teammates. It became a goal for Cincinnati, then the nation, to see Lauren play. Moved to the Cintas Center, the game sold out to 10,000 fans in less than an hour.
On November 2, Lauren Hill played college basketball. She made one layup to open the game and one to close it. "This is the greatest day of my life," Lauren said to the sold-out crowd as she stood at half court.
"Let's not call it one last game," she also said. "This is my first collegiate game."
Lauren would play in four games before calling it a career, including a pair on the floor where she dreamed about squeaking those shoes, the Harrington Center at Mount St. Joseph.
She scored five baskets in all. And her point total? It's a perfect 10.
Lauren had a goal to raise awareness and cancer research funding, aided by the #Layup4Lauren challenge.
And that superhero she said she wanted to feel like was born with network interviews and international celebrity.
Lauren Hill was making good on everything she said she would.
She was the face for DIPG, the voice for voiceless children and the name behind the donations to fight the battle against pediatric cancer.
"I'm not fighting for me, but for those who follow."
On February 6, in a private ceremony for family, teammates and friends, Lauren was presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Mount St. Joseph, a Doctor of Humanity at 19 seemed appropriate.
"She was a huge gift from God, and if he takes her back then we'll have to deal with it. But while we had her for 19 years, she was ours," said Lisa.
For much too short a time, she was ours, too.
From the time the nation met her until the time she left us, Lauren Hill changed very little.
The cancer changed her appearance but it couldn't change her heart or her desire to serve others and make a real difference.
"When I leave that's fine. I'm not scared. I'm scared for everybody else, like my family and how they'll handle it. And it will be fine.
"Goodbye #22. You were a hell of a player. When you came along, that's when everything changed!