After inspiring the world, Lauren Hill has died

GREENDALE, Ind. -- Lauren Hill's motto was "Never Give Up." She hoped to inspire kids suffering from her deadly brain cancer - and everyone, really - to follow her message, find hope in her example and live their lives to the fullest.

Like she did.

The 19-year-old fought off a brain tumor to play college basketball and inspired a nation to spin around and shoot layups and contribute to her crusade against pediatric cancer.

She held off her deadly disease for many months longer than her doctors expected, until she just couldn't anymore.

The Cure Starts Now announced Lauren Hill's passing early Friday morning -- and Indiana, children with cancer, the sports world – all of us - lost a hero.

Hill leaves her loving parents Brent and Lisa, brother Nathan and sister Erin. They were always at her side through her triumphs and tribulations. Services have not been announced.

Hill also leaves a legacy that will be remembered for a long time, not only here but around the country.

Given her own dreadful diagnosis at age 18, the then Lawrenceburg High School senior set out to increase awareness about her rare pediatric cancer, DIPG, and raise money for long-neglected research.

"Spreading awareness has been my goal throughout this whole thing," she said last fall. "I wanted to help kids because I feel so terrible that this is happening to a lot of people and nobody knows about it.

"I just can't believe the impact this is going to have and I'm really proud of how far it's come and how many people we're going to help and how much funds this is going to raise and how much awareness for pediatric cancer, because it needs it."

And she had another goal - to satisfy her own desire to play in a college basketball game – even after her cancer had weakened her body, diminished her skills and plagued her with dizziness, severe headaches and joint pain.

Lauren Hill shoots to score her second basket during the game against Hiram at Cintas Center on Nov. 2, 2014.

Lauren Hill practices for her first college basketball game. (Photo by Dwayne Slavey | WCPO)

Eventually, she raised more than $1.4 million for cancer research through her LayupForLauren challenge,  jersey sales and donations, attending many events even as her health eroded.

WATCH: Lauren Hill's last interview

Before she ever took the court last fall, Hill created a national sensation to rival the ALS  Ice Bucket Challenge. It started when she challenged Andy Dalton and Andrew Whitworth of the Bengals and some basketball notables  to spin five times and shoot a layup with their non-dominant hand. The idea was to imitate her handicaps on the court. The LayupForLauren challenge spread across the country. Thousands of famous athletes like the Harlem Globetrotters, entertainers, college and high school teams, non-athletes and admirers joined in and donated to her cause.

It was really just child's play, though, compared to the ailments she overcame to play, even for just a few moments.

By the time the Mount was set to open the season, Hill's story had spread across the Internet, and the first game drew a sellout crowd of 10,250 to Xavier University's Cintas Center. Nearly 3,000 came from Lawrenceburg to watch their favorite daughter.

The greatest coach in women's basketball history, retired Tennessee legend Pat Summitt, was there to present Hill a college basketball courage award in her name. Summitt, in early stages of Alzheimer's, arranged for friends to drive her four hours from Knoxville for Hill's first game.

Lauren Hill and her mother during her final interview with WCPO, RTV6's sister station.

What happened was one of the most exciting moments in Cincinnati sports history. No. 22 made a layup on the first play and the crowd erupted.  In the last minute, the crowd chanted, "We want Lauren," and coach Dan Benjamin put her back in the game.

Hill made another layup, and her legend was secured.

"This game was amazing and it was amazing in every way. It's just a dream come true to play on the college level," Hill said at a news conference afterward. "It was great to just be able to put my foot down and feel the crowd through the vibrations in the floor boards.

"I just wanted to play. I just love it so much. I love basketball," she said.

LeBron James, Mia Hamm, Billie Jean King and other sports stars went to Twitter and paid tribute to her.

Through it all, Hill became comrades in arms with Bengals lineman Devon Still, who was guiding his own 4-year-old daughter, Leah, through her fight with cancer. Hill and Still stood by each other with support and encouragement.

Though her first game was billed as "One Last Game" for Hill, she wouldn't have it. She astonished everyone by playing in three more over the next six weeks, before finally hanging up her now famous No. 22  for the title of honorary coach.

She finished with a total of 10 points, but in the box score of life, she scored more than a million.

You might say, 1,437,709.

That was the total in the Lauren Hill Tribute Fund Tuesday. That's how many dollars she raised through the Cure Starts Now Foundation. Hill believed in the mission of The Cure Starts Now, founded by a Mason couple after their 6-year-old died of DIPG. Doctors convinced Keith and Brooke Desserich that finding a cure to DIPG  will lead to a cure for all cancers – the  "home-run cure" - so the money Lauren raised goes directly to underfunded research for DIPG.

"They going to find something that helps them live longer because just a little kid, 5 years old, that's not enough. That's not enough," Hill pleaded that day. 

As much as her first game was the thrill of a lifetime, reaching her $1 million goal just before New Year's, during a telethon on Dec. 30, seemed to please her just as much or more.

And to see it happen after doctors told her she wouldn't live to see Christmas? Well, just imagine how that must have felt.

"Reaching that goal is amazing," Hill said, surrounded by her family and The Cure Starts Now people who helped her realize her dreams since her diagnosis in Nov. 2013. "I mean, to reach it this fast and to have so many people that care enough to donate … Thank you, everybody that's here. Thank you, everybody that donated and are still donating. And I hope that donations don't stop with this."

Hill's health gradually deteriorated over the last six weeks, and she suffered mostly in private, as she always had. In public, though, she always wore a smile.

She had more happy moments, as when she went back to her high school for basketball homecoming and passed on the crown she had worn as homecoming queen the year before.

And when Mount St. Joseph had a private ceremony to award her an honorary doctorate.

At the end of the ceremony, Hill put on her blue superhero cape.  Her aunt had a friend make it for her, and Hill  wore it when she visited kids with cancer at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

She knew her death was drawing nearer, but she could only think about life.

"I've learned that life is really special," Hill said, "and there's something good in every moment."

We will miss Hill for the good she spread and for the lessons she retaught us.

Care for others.

Cherish each moment.

Never give up. Never.

You can donate to the Lauren Hill Tribute Fund here.

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