Okizu foundation helps children with cancer

December 1, 2007 12:59:38 PM PST
This is the time of year when we take time to appreciate the good things in our lives. It's also a time when families struggling with illnesses, remember those who help them, without asking for anything in return.

One such program, Camp Okizu, provides that special service for children and families living with cancer.

The kids you see enjoying summer camp in the Sierra Foothills are here to have fun. But this particular group is together because they share something in common.

They each have a loved one who was diagnosed with cancer. This is called Siblings Camp, run by the Okizu Foundation of Novato.

It was a need discovered by the camp co-founders, John Bell and Dr. Mike amylon, after several years of working with families affected by cancer.

"What we didn't at that point recognize was the emotional trauma to those kids who felt like they were being put on the shelf for a period of time," said Camp Okizu co-founder Dr. Mike Amylon.

Siblings Camp is a place where kids can laugh and also feel safe to talk about their very private pain.

Some shared their thoughts with me. Their sadness, etched on their young faces.

"I was nine and he would have been 11 at the time, and he battled cancer for about a year. he passed away when I turned 10," said camper Daniel.

ABC7's Cheryl Jennings: "Do you know what kind of cancer?"

Nicholas: "Brain tumor."

ABC7's Cheryl Jennings: "How's he doing?"

"He's doing alright. He just can't run fast, that's what happened," said Nicholas.

"My dad had cancer, he had lymphoma, tumor on his neck but he took chemo, and my brother has had it," said camper Parker.

"My brother Ryan got diagnosed when I believe I was four and he was ten or 11. We tried to have as much fun as we could while my brother was still alive," said camper Annalise.

ABC7's Cheryl Jennings: "It's hard to talk about, isn't it?"

"Yes," said Annalise.

"My brother, he was 16 months about, when he was diagnosed with cancer and then I was about three or four. I remember there was a lot of confusion then," said camper Lauren.

They're just some of the children who stood in the shadows, while the family's attention was focused on the sick child.

"I did kind of want attention more from my parents, and when they went away, I would cry," said camper Forrest.

"I remember having some jealous feelings, but then I was very guilty and so I took back all I had thought about," said camper Hannah.

"It was sad, because my parents, I never seen them, barely, because they were always at the hospital," said camper Jeff.

"They began to feel like they must not be important, that they were not loved as much as their brother or sister who was ill, they were not valued as much by their parents or by the rest of the world because everybody they encountered was paying so much attention to the one who's sick, which is very natural and the other kids felt like they no longer had a place in the world," said Dr. Mike Amylon from Camp Okizu.

Dr. Amylon and John Bell co-founded Camp Okizu 26 years ago. Dr. Mike, as the kids call him, worked at Stanford as a bone marrow transplant specialist.

John Bell was inspired by a man he met who was dying of cancer. The name of the camp, Okizu, comes from the Sioux language and means unity, to come together, to heal from a hurt, to make whole.

Camp Okizu not only provides a free week of summer camp for children affected by cancer, but also children living with cancer and a shorter week for the entire family.

This summer, the kids are enjoying their brand new boathouse on the lake. You watched its progress over the last year.

There wasn't any shade, the bathroom was portable, boat storage was an old a metal container which is being recycled to another part of the camp for equipment storage.

The new digs have plenty of shade and all the other important things a boat house needs, thanks to the generous donations from Okizu's main donors for The Hart Foundation.

All of this allows Okizu to live up to its name and its mission, as a place for healing the hearts of those affected by cancer and a reward for all of those who volunteer.

"It's a place for me to remember my brother and just remember who he was and how important he was to me," said Daniel.

"Seeing themselves as part of a group that has fun, that's a team, that's good to each other that help each other succeed. The kind of thing that you wish everybody in life would do, and here, not only does it happen, you're able to create it, it's just a really great feeling," said Camp Okizu co-founder John Bell.

To learn more about Camp Okizu, click on The Back Story.

Visit the camp Okizu Web site: www.okizu.org.

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