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Honor gives former North star break from fight against illness

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Karen McCaa has had a rough start to 2014.

The former Columbus North basketball star, who has been battling Lyme disease and other ailments for the past three years, has spent the past three months in Sierra Integrated Medical Institute in Reno, Nev.

She’s taking a break, though, from chemotherapy to return home for a special honor.

McCaa, a 1989 North graduate, plans to fly back to Indiana on Wednesday and spend a few days in her hometown. On Saturday night she will be honored as a Silver Anniversary Team member at the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame’s Women’s Banquet at Primo Banquet Hall in Indianapolis.

“It’s going to be good to be a part of that event,” McCaa said. “I’m looking forward to being home and going over to North. I was raised on that football field (while tagging along with her father, former North coach Bill McCaa) and in Memorial Gym. Just being home will be good for my soul.”

McCaa thought she might have turned the corner when she came home for Christmas after spending time in a treatment facility in Tampa, Fla. But shortly after making it back to Indiana, her parents took her back to Iowa, where she had lived and worked as a life coach at a Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School and as a motivational speaker, and the complications continued.

“She was really struggling, and the Lyme was not gone,” said her mother, Karen McCaa. “She wanted to get in there, but it was going to be six weeks until she could see anybody.”

So Karen’s doctor in Tampa suggested Sierra Integrated Medical Institute. She’s been there since the end of January.

“I am in the fight of my life right now,” Karen McCaa said. “When you go through something like this, it’s a scary experience. These treatments in Reno are harder than anything I’ve ever done. But because everything else has failed, I’m open to it.

“I look at everything I’m going through right now as an opportunity to trust God,” she said. “He doesn’t allow anything in our lives without a purpose in it. I don’t understand it right now, but I trust Him.”

Benita Genth, who has worked with Kathy McCaa at McDowell Outdoor Education Center, is helping Kathy get a fund started to help pay for Karen’s rising medical bills.

“I know the struggles that they’ve had, and I know the adversities that poor Karen has gone through with the Lyme Disease and the complications that have gone along with that,” Genth said. “We have retired teachers who keep up with what’s going on, and who knew Bill McCaa, who was principal at the high school. People sometimes fall on tough times, and this is a good time to reach out to her.”

Karen McCaa graduated as North’s all-time leading scorer with 1,064 points and was named to the Indiana All-Star team her senior season. She keeps in contact with her coach, Hedy George, and with current North girls coach Pat McKee, who had her speak via phone to the Bull Dogs prior to this year’s North Regional.

“I wish I could have been home to be at the regional,” McCaa said. “The thing about that is, it’s not about ‘me;’ it’s about ‘we.’ I want to come home and be with that team next year and be a part of their lives and what Pat McKee is doing. They don’t even realize it, but they’re bringing me strength 2,000 miles away.”

This week, she’ll get to experience that strength up close.

“She needs a break,” Kathy McCaa said. “We’re going to savor this moment for her. I know she’s anxious to get back with all her friends and those who have been inspirational to her.

“She is positive. She wants to get her life back at least to the point where she can work with young people. I see her possibly moving back to this area, but we have to get this knocked out. She has very, very bad days, and they’re treating it hard right now. But she’s determined to beat this. She’s a very determined lady.”

Karen McCaa remains optimistic that she’ll return to good health.

“Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful,” McCaa said. “Right now, dying would be easier than trying, but believers don’t give up, and Bull Dogs don’t give up. Somehow, we will rise.

“I’m making progress, but I hate to say absolutely I’ve turned the corner,” she said. “I just take things one day at a time right now. We’re going to get this thing beat someday.”

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