Lauren says her dream took a big step forward on October 1, 2013, when the then-Lawrenceburg senior commemorated her birthday by calling to confirm her intentions to play basketball for Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati.
“I said, ‘Oh, I gotta make a memory on my birthday,'” Lauren said. “I called the coach and said that I’m coming to The Mount to play.”
In the following weeks after her call, Lauren’s health began to mysteriously deteriorate.
“I wasn’t keeping up with the other girls,” Lauren told Johansen. “My ball-handling was sloppy, so I just figured I was out of shape.”
Lauren says she was experiencing vertigo, dizziness and numbness in her tongue while practicing. Things came to a head after Lauren collided with a teammate and decided something bigger than simple fatigue could be the cause.
Lisa Hill, Lauren’s mother, recalls her daughter saying she thought she might have a concussion.
Less than two months after Lauren committed to play for Mount St. Joseph, an MRI revealed a tumor weaving its way through the nerves in the base of her brain stem. She was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG)—an inoperable brain cancer with a 0 percent survival rate.
Doctors gave her two years to live. She kept playing basketball.
“I never gave up for a second even when I got a terminal diagnosis,” Lauren said. “Never thought about sitting back and not living life anymore.”
Zane White, Lauren’s coach at Lawrenceburg, says his standout star met with the team and made teammates promise to keep working without her.
White recalls Lauren telling the team, “You better not quit because I’ll come after you. If I’m not there, you better be playing, don’t feel sorry for me.”
After spending the last year traveling with family—trips to the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and a Make-A-Wish vacation to Hawaii—Lauren’s time is running low. A follow-up MRI in September confirmed her tumor’s growth, and doctors told Lauren she won’t likely make it past December.
Where most would see a dark end in this news, the 19-year-old sees an opportunity, a chance to make her college hoops dreams come true.
“One game,” Lauren told Mount St. Joseph basketball coach Dan Benjamin. “I want to play one college game.”
Mount St. Joseph is doing everything it can to get the game played as early as possible.
The women’s basketball program was originally scheduled play its first game away against Hiram College on November 15. Adjustments have been made, however, and with the NCAA’s blessing, Hiram College has agreed to play at Mount St. Joseph on November 2 in the hopes of making Lauren’s last game a reality.
As for Lauren, she’s excited to return to the hardwood and hear those old, familiar sounds again.
“I love the roar of the crowd, the squeaking of the shoes,” Lauren said. “I can’t wait to be on this court and wearing No. 22.”