British Columbia

Karin Khuong, 'fearless' on and off the basketball court, dies at 16

Karin Khuong, 16, was a guard for Terry Fox secondary’s senior girl’s basketball team, the Ravens in Port Coquitlam, B.C. She died of cancer on Sunday.

Khuong was diagnosed with cancer in September 2018 after competing in the Junior NBA National Championship

Karin Khuong, 16, was a guard for Terry Fox Secondary School's senior girl’s basketball team in Port Coquitlam, B.C. She died of cancer on Sunday, Oct. 4. (Submitted by Mike Carkner)

The basketball community in Port Coquitlam has said goodbye to a beloved player with an infectious personality who passed away from cancer this past weekend. 

Karin Khuong, 16, died Sunday from rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer that forms in soft tissue and most commonly occurs during childhood. 

Mike Carkner, who had coached Khuong and her teammates since they were in Grade 3, said her loss has been heartbreaking for everyone.

"It's been a tough week," Carkner said to host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's On The Coast. "The kids have been together for so long. It is like a family."

Carkner said Khuong — who played for the Ravens, Terry Fox Secondary School's senior girl's basketball team — was an incredibly talented player and a natural leader among her peers. 

"On the court, she was courageous. She was fearless," he said. "She just played the game with so much passion."

He said it was partly because of that leadership that her team achieved so much of its success. 

'She never let the cancer define her'

In fact, it was after participating in the Junior NBA National Tournament in Ontario at the end of summer 2018 that Khuong received her cancer diagnosis.

"The kids were all due to start at Terry Fox in Grade 9 in September," said Carkner, who is also a family physician.

"Karin's mum texted me ... and kind of gave me this picture of her leg swollen."

Khuong was diagnosed with stage four rhabdomyosarcoma. 

Carkner said Khuong did not let her cancer diagnosis stop her, describing times when she would come back to the court after a 3 p.m. chemotherapy appointment to sit on the bench and support her teammates.

"She'd be sitting on the bench looking unwell ... she kind of never let the cancer kind of define her," he said. "[She was] just happy to be there with her teammates. And that's the kind of kid she was."

The team and community held a small celebration of life for Khuong on Wednesday with appropriate COVID-19 protocols, though Carkner said everything still feels raw and devastating.

He says her legacy will live on.

"She was one of those kids that lived every day to the fullest," he said.

"Hopefully all our kids are going to have that same courage and that same kind of approach to life going forward."

With files from On The Coast