Costello Dies After Year-Long Battle With Stage IV Lung Cancer

Photo: Jill Costello
Jill Costello

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Jill Costello, a star on the Cal women's crew squad and recent graduate, died Thursday morning, ending her year-long battle with lung cancer. She was 22.

Costello, the crew's coxswain, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer last June - which spread to her liver, breast and bones - though she remained part of the team throughout this past season. She had been admitted into the emergency room at the UCSF Medical Center Sunday night after her condition worsened.

"As prepared as everyone was for it, it's just awful news," coach Dave O'Neill said. "When the reality hits, it hits hard. I've received a few tearful phone calls today, and understandably so.

"It's a tough day for our team. She touched our hearts and the lives of many, many people."

Costello was a continued a source of inspiration and leadership for both the Cal men's and women's crews since she found out about her illness. Throughout the season, the rowers kept her in their minds as they prepared for each and every competition.

"During the race I wasn't thinking about anything but repeating, 'Make Jill proud' over and over in my head from start to finish," women's captain Mary Jehgers said after defeating Stanford in early May.

After enduring 20 rounds of chemotherapy and 14 radiation treatments, the nonsmoker traveled to Lourdes, France. The Catholic Church believes the waters there possess miraculous properties, and the former coxswain dipped into the ice-cold temperatures in hopes of curing her ails. She and her family even brought back 20 liters of the liquid home to her native San Francisco.

Even an ocean away, Costello kept up with her team's progression, Tweeting her congratulations after they beat the Cardinal.

She has been universally praised for the courage and dignity with which she faced her obstacles.

"For me, it has been life-changing," O'Neill said. "I certainly hope when I am faced with something as daunting as what she faced, I can handle it as well as she did. She never complained, never really seems to bring her down. She fought and battled."

With her most recent post coming last Sunday, she had been inviting readers into her life with her blog on the CaringBridge website. She worked with the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation to raise money for research in the disease, promoting a 5,000-kilometer run at Golden Gate Park this September.

Costello's teammates had also been unwavering in their support. During the Big Row against Stanford, both the men and women - as well as the Cardinal - included the senior's favorite color, turquoise, on their oars and uniforms.

She graduated with a bachelor's degree in political economy in May and won the Joseph M. Kavanagh Award as the most inspirational athlete.

Her funeral services will be held next Wednesday, at 1:30 p.m., in the St. Ignatius Church on the University of San Francisco campus.

Javier Panzar of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.


Contact Jack Wang at [email protected]

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