It's among the scariest words in the English language, capable of stopping people in their tracks. Jordan Hill is unfortunately all too aware of why the word is so frightening. As a three-year old, the Lakers forward lost his mother Carol to breast cancer. Her absence has been felt on several levels throughout Hill's life, a wound that will never truly heal. Because of this tragedy, along with the way cancer has threatened others in his family, Hill has decided to take action. On March 23, he'll be leading “Team Hill” in the Susan G. Komen “Race for the Cure,” which raises money for the battle to fight cancer. (For more information about getting involved with “Team Hill,” click here.)
Hill spoke candidly with me last week about his mother, how her passing affected his life, and joining this cause. Here is a transcript of our conversation.
Andy Kamenetzky: What prompted you to get involved with the race?
Jordan Hill: It's something I've been wanting to do. I lost my mother to breast cancer when I was three, so it kind of stuck to me. I had a couple of scares with my sister. She found a lump in her chest, so I went back home and helped her get a mammogram and a cat scan. Fortunately, it wasn't what we thought it was. They said it wasn't breast cancer, so that was good. My father remarried and my stepmother was unfortunately diagnosed with breast cancer. I think it's gone now, but she had to go through a couple operations. So [the interest] has been there for a while.
AK: Do you have any memories of your mom?
JH: I have flashbacks. I always flash back to things that I've been, like, around her. I have flashbacks that the ambulance came and she had to be rushed to the hospital. I don't know why. She just got sick. And I had a flashback that I was riding in the back of the ambulance. But I ask people if that's true, and they don't recall that happening. I don't understand what it is, but I always have flashback of things happening. It might be true, it might not, but it comes and goes.
AK: Do you have pictures of you and your mom together?
JH: Yeah, I definitely have a baby picture on my phone right now. It's a baby picture with her holding me up. But all my pictures are with my father's mother, my grandmother in South Carolina. She had a lot of picture of her.
AK: Do you remember the moment when you really realized that she was gone? When it was explained to you what this meant?
JH: It probably had to have been in elementary school. It's crazy, when I go to visit her grave, it's like, “I can't believe she's gone,” even though I can't remember her like I want to. But it kind of hits when people always talk about it. Being around my family, they always talk about how wonderful she. She did have her moments. She used to punish her kids. When we did something wrong, she definitely used to do what she had to do. But she was a great woman and it's kind of hard sometimes to sit there and listen to it, because it kind of hits home.
AK: Have you been told about any traits shared with your mom?
JH: Not really. I don't even look like her. I look like my father most of the time. But my sister looks identical like her. I got this picture of my mother sitting in this chair with this hat on and it looks just like my sister. Every time I look at my sister, I always think about that picture I see with my mom and the chair. My sister probably got her traits and everything from my mom, but I haven't heard anything about me getting much from her.
AK: We unfortunately hear so many stories about the effect on young men when they grow up without a father, but you don't as often hear the perspective of growing up without a mother. How did that absence affect you growing up?
JH: I feel I definitely would have been raised a little better than how I was back in the day. My father used to drive 18-wheelers from, like, South Carolina to, I think, Oregon. So he used to be gone for days, probably sometimes even a week or so. And I used to stay with my grandmother. She would take care of us while my father would do what he had to do. My father didn't want to be away from home anymore. He had three kids at the house that he had to take care of, so he had to let that job go, and after that it was just tough for him to get back on his feet, to find the perfect job, a good job. I was bouncing from his house to my grandmother's house. It was definitely hard for me, but I managed to keep my head high and kept moving on.
AK: Whether consciously at the time or looking back on it now, were you ever trying to fill the void of your mom being gone?
JH: I mean, I had my stepmother. She was around a little bit. But she had her own kids and me and her, my sister and her, we always bumped heads with each other, with my stepmother. We still loved her. She still was there for us. But we feared she wasn't the mother that was supposed to [do] what our real mother, our biological mother, was supposed to do. So we bumped head a lot. I felt like I was on my own sometimes, but like I said, my brother and sister would keep me up. My father (too). I just did what I had to do and focused on what I had to focus on.
AK: As an adult, is her being gone something you still have to wrap your head around?
JH: Oh, man. Yeah. It definitely hits me, since I'm older now and I know what happened. And I know things happen, and you can't do nothing about it. I mean, what can you do? But it still hurts. I still see pictures. I still go to her grave site, put flowers down. And every time I go there, it's like, “Man, my mother is buried six feet under here.” And I can't hold her. I can't do anything. But it's life. Everybody's gotta go one day. What can you do about it? But it still hurts, though.
AK: Are any of your tattoos commemorative for her?
JH: I have a tattoo of a basketball and banner on it with her name in it, and “In Loving Memory” on it. And on the bottom, it says, “Doing it for you.” So that's my tattoo for her. And I've got her name mixed in all around me. Just throw it in there. Just anything. Just throw her name, initials. Just keep her in my mind, keep her in my thoughts and definitely just stay in my heart. Just something that I keep with me.
AK: When did you specifically understand the concept that cancer took your mom?
JH: When I was in elementary school, I really didn't know much about cancer. The cancer that I heard more about was lung cancer. So when I heard my mom died of cancer, I didn't know which kind of cancer, so I figured it was lung cancer. That's the only thing I really knew about until I got older and started asking questions. I found out she never smoked. Then people were telling me it was breast cancer. I was like, “Breast cancer? How do you get that?” That's how I was when I was little. Then when I got older, I started reading more about it. I was like, “Man, this is a common disease for all woman.” Rarely for men, but it's definitely a deadly disease that takes lives. It takes moms' lives, like it did mine. It takes sisters' lives. Wives' lives. Daughters' lives. It kind of stuck to me as soon as I found out more about it.
Nobody should ever have to come through this. It's God's will, you know. Things happen. God makes things happen for a reason. But it's definitely a heartbreaking, heartbreaking disease that I'm gonna do whatever I can to help prevent it and find a cure for it.