CINCINNATI (CNS) — Lauren Hill, a freshman at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, described herself in an ESPN interview as the face of pediatric cancer and hopes her own struggle with terminal brain cancer will spur more people to help fund research and find a cure.
Hill made national headlines — and maybe world headlines — with coverage of her as she took the basketball court Nov. 2 in her first game as a college player.
“I’ve just always wanted to step out on a college court, looking down at my shoes, stepping out on that wooden floor and feeling the vibration of the crowd — it’s just what I’ve dreamed,” she told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi in an interview that aired before the game.
“Pediatric cancer — it’s underfunded,” Hill said. “I remember being at an appointment and my doctor saying that pediatric cancer needed a face — that’s kind of why I’m going after this game, because that’s been my goal.”
The regular season of the Mount St. Joseph Lions usually begins in mid-November, but NCAA officials allowed the game to be played early to accommodate Hill’s dream of playing.
According to the news coverage of Hill, the 19-year-old learned she had inoperable brain cancer toward the end of her senior year in high school. She had already been accepted to Mount St. Joseph University and committed to playing on the team.
After her doctors told her this spring that her cancer had advanced and that she had just a few months to live, the university arranged to have the basketball season opener moved up so she could play. Hill told ESPN that as her tumor progresses, she is losing feeling on her right side and her joints hurt.
“There’s two things she wanted from us and that was to be a college student and play in a college basketball,” coach Dan Benjamin told ESPN. “My real role and responsibility is to make her achieve this goal of hers and help her complete the mission.
The Lions played Hiram College before a sold-out crowd at Xavier University’s Cintas Center, winning 66-55. The freshman forward scored the game’s first and last basket. More than $70,000 was raised during the game for an organization called “The Cure Starts Now” to help support pediatric brain cancer research.
Hill also was named the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Women’s Basketball Player of the Week.
In her battle against cancer, Hill told ESPN: “Sometimes I’m winning, sometimes I won’t admit I’m losing, but it’s a constant struggle. Today I want to keep living and keep cherishing the moment.”
“Knowing that there’s nothing they can do (to stop the cancer) is the hardest,” she said tearfully in the ESPN interview. “All they can do is give me more steroids and help me through the death process. That’s the hardest.”
Her mom and dad, Lisa and Brent Hill, also were featured in the ESPN story. About the game, Lisa said, “The victory is just making sure she’s upright and she gets to walk on that court.”
In a commentary in The Catholic Telegraph, newspaper of the Cincinnati Archdiocese, John Stegeman, the paper’s new media editor, called Hill “a witness to life.”
“Various reports suggest Hill has until December to live. It isn’t clear,” he wrote. “She knows the end of her life is coming, but she doesn’t know when. In the time she has, she will live more fully than many of us ever do. Lauren Hill is truly dying with dignity.
“There is a school of thought in America that doesn’t accept death. Some people would like to see cancer and other terminal patients try every last experimental drug until their final breath,” he continued. “Others accept that a time comes when the miracle that is modern medicine can do no more to help, and at that time embrace palliative care. Still others advocate for the path of (Brittany) Maynard.”
Maynard, 29, also had terminal brain cancer. She took a lethal dose of drugs to end her life in Oregon Nov. 1.
“I don’t know exactly how I’d react to a terminal diagnosis. But I do have hope,” said Stegeman. “Whenever I die — be it sudden or prolonged, painful or painless — I pray to God that I face it like Lauren Hill.”
Mount St. Joseph University, which opened in 1920 as the College of Mount St. Joseph, is sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. It was the first Catholic college for women in southwestern Ohio. It has been coeducational since 1986 and was designated a university effective last July.