Lauren Hill: Raising Brain Cancer Awareness

Sports are great for many reasons, perhaps none more so than when they have positive effects off the field. On November 2nd, Lauren Hill scored the first points of the college basketball season when she made a basket for Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati. She was on the court for less than a minute total, but her impact will last for years. Hill, 19 and a college freshman, has terminal brain cancer. Since being diagnosed shortly after committing to play college ball last October, her dream has been to play in a college game. A week ago Sunday, the dream became a reality and, in the process, awareness and money were raised.

Hill’s story is crushing. A star high school player in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, she committed to play at Division III Mount St. Joseph on her 18th birthday last October. The next month, she was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), a rare type of brain cancer found in the pons, part of the brainstem. DIPG primarily affects children, typically 5- to 7-year-olds. DIPG makes up 10 to 15 percent of all brain tumors in children, with about 100-150 new diagnoses per year in the United States. According to DIPGRegistry.org, “Unlike many other pediatric cancers, there has been little progress in improving treatments and cure rates for DIPG over the last few decades. Unfortunately, fewer than 10 percent of children with DIPG survive two years from diagnosis.”

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Lauren Hill hugs Pat Summit after receiving the Pat Summitt Award during halftime of her first NCAA college basketball game against Hiram University (Credit: AP)

Hill’s condition is so critical that the NCAA moved up Mount St. Joseph’s game two weeks in order to be sure Hill could play. While the team’s home games typically draw about 100 fans, it was clear this event was going to be far more popular. Xavier University in Cincinnati offered its 10,250-seat arena; even so, the game sold out in 30 minutes. Broadcast on a FOX Sports affiliate, Hill scored the game’s first and last baskets in a Mount St. Joseph victory.

Partly due to a strong social media campaign, #Playfor22 (Hill’s jersey number), that included professional basketball stars LeBron James and Candace Parker as participants, at least $40,000 was raised for The Cure Starts Now Foundation on Sunday.

More money and research will hopefully lead to answers in the fight against DIPG. “Today has been the best day I’ve ever had,” Hill said after the game. Her dream to suit up in a college game was truly inspiring and will have repercussions well beyond the basketball court.

–Andrew Kahn

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