RIP, Lauren Hill

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Friday, Lauren Hill, the 19-year-old basketball player, lost her battle with an inoperable brain tumor. Cancer may have defeated her, but it could not conquer her. Taking Dylan Thomas’ advice, she did not, “go gently into that good night,” but — in her own inspirational way — would “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

For those who may not know her story, it is a deceptively simple one. A basketball crazy young lady from the basketball crazy state of Indiana, this Hoosier had one desire — to play college basketball. After her senior season in high school, she signed to play for Mount Saint Joseph College in Cincinnati, Ohio. She wasn’t after a scholarship MSJ is a Division III school in the NCAA’s hierarchy and so does not award scholarships . . . it didn’t matter because she wasn’t in the game for the money, she just wanted to play. Unfortunately, during that senior year, Lauren received a chilling diagnosis from her doctors. After testing because of increasingly frequent headaches, they had found a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma — in layman’s terms, a brain tumor — completely inoperable. Her prognosis was two years at the outside.

Still, she refused to give up and continued on with her senior season, playing though the nausea of chemotherapy treatments. By the time her freshman season with Mount Saint Joseph drew near, her symptoms had started to worsen. It seemed the two-year time frame may have been a little too optimistic. But, she wanted to play. Her coach made some calls. Some other people made some calls and the usually intractably draconian bureaucracy that is the NCAA actually showed a soft side. MJS would begin their season two weeks early.

By tip-off, Lauren’s condition had progressed to the point where she couldn’t reliably use her dominant hand. Instead, she scored the game’s first points with a left-handed lay-up in front of a packed house at Xavier University’s Cintas Center. She bookended the game with another lay-up as time expired to end the contest. In all, Lauren managed to play bits of five games, scoring ten points for her brief collegiate career, but everyone knew this was a fight against an unbeatable opponent. All too soon, Lauren could no longer take to the court. She left school and went home to face the inevitable.

From a wheelchair and a hospital bed, Lauren still inspired others. Unable to play the game she loved, she turned her full attention for her remaining time towards raising money for cancer research. Her nonprofit organization, which will outlive her through her school, raised over $1 million dollars towards finding cures for pediatric cancer. Her goal was to raise $2.2 million before she died so she would match her jersey number . . . she almost made it.

Earlier today, her family, friends, teammates, and school honored her life at the same 10,000 seat arena where she made her first points as a college player. Everyone who spoke talked about her courage and determination. She realized she wasn’t going to beat this cancer early on, but she resolved not to let it beat her either. In the end, her beautiful ship slipped beneath life’s waves . . . broken and battered, but with all flags still flying.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean.

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