VacaValley Hospital Social Worker Lisa Kjer was 17 when her younger brother Jeff was diagnosed with cancer. Attending Okizu Oncology Camp in Novato helped him through his ordeal, and when he recovered, he became a camp counselor. Okizu is a Sioux Indian word meaning unity.
“When a family member has cancer, it changes you as a teen,” Lisa says. “Looking back, in a strange way it was a good thing, because focusing on my brother taught me a lot about compassion and what people go through when they’re sick.”
Lisa joined her brother volunteering with Okizu in 1998 and today it’s a family affair, with their parents also involved in the year-round activities of the organization. She donates her time as a summer camp counselor and at weekend events and camps. It was her volunteer work that inspired her to become a social worker.
“We wanted to give back, to support other families dealing with cancer,” Lisa says. “My time with Okizu has given me a true understanding of what patients deal with in the real world, the isolation of illness and the barriers they face. It’s information I use every day to help my patients at VacaValley Hospital.”