Akana draws support of Konawaena community

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KEALAKEKUA — Dealing with cancer is never easy. But knowing there are friends and family members around for support can make the diagnosis a little more manageable.

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KEALAKEKUA — Dealing with cancer is never easy. But knowing there are friends and family members around for support can make the diagnosis a little more manageable.

Knowing that an entire community is there to help, well, that is something special.

For Konawaena basketball player Mckella Akana, she could definitely feel the love from the Big Island community on Saturday during the first day of the annual D’s Summer Jam 3-on-3 basketball tournament.

This year’s tourney — which is run by the Konawaena girls and boys basketball programs and drew hundreds of participants from as young as five years old all the way to adults — doubled as a benefit event this year, with money raised going to help offset the cost of Akana’s medical bills and other expenses.

“The turnout is amazing and there is so much support,” Akana said. “Basketball means a lot me me and I am so thankful to (Konawaena girls coach) Dawnyelle (Awa), who put this together. I don’t think I can say thank you enough for how much the coaches and players have done for me.”

Akana was diagnosed with cancer in January, shortly after the regular season wrapped up for the Wildcats. She first noticed a lump on the side of her neck and after antibiotics failed to reduce the size it, she was sent to a specialist who would tell her she has Burkitt’s Lymphoma, a from of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma which is very rare.

“It was in the early stages but I was very shocked,” Akana said. “I did not think it was going to be cancer.”

After diagnosis, Akana had to immediately head to Oahu to start chemotherapy.

“It was not the best time of my life,” said Akana on her experience of going through treatment. “But I knew I had family praying for me and my teammates came to visit me in the hospital twice. The second time was after the state championship game. They gave me a game ball and a medal. I was very touched.”

Akana is now out of treatment but still has to fly back to Oahu once a month for a checkup, scans and blood work.

“She is doing well now and that is a blessing,” said Jessica Akana, Mckella’s mother. “Hopefully in six months she will be in remission and it doesn’t come back.”

Mckella Akana is now starting to get back to playing basketball. She played in the tournament on Saturday and also plans on playing in the tournament today.

“I am trying to get back into condition and get back to my old self,” Akana said. “It took a while to get back on the court. I had to recondition my body to run and redo everything because I was pretty weak. But I’m ready to play. I missed basketball.”

Perhaps, due to the community wanting to come out and support Akana, the tournament drew many more people than last year, so many that Dawnyelle Awa thought that maybe it was too crowded for the gym at Konawaena.

“It’s great, but maybe I have to find a new location next year,” Awa said.

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Awa also toyed with making the tournament a three-day event, but said with the WYBT tournament going on, it was difficult enough to get the officiating for just the two days.

Games during the 3-on-3 tournament were played half-court style on one of six baskets set up in the gym. A large crowded gathered in the middle of the main court to watch the side action. Winners in the adult divisions were given the option to get their entry fee back or donate it. In the younger divisions, kids were given first and second place medals.

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