Light a Fire

At Camp Ukandu, Jordan Herrle Restores Hope—and Childhood—for Kids Battling Cancer

The youngest member of the camp’s leadership team advocates year-round for kids with cancer.

By Katherine Chew Hamilton December 2, 2020 Published in the Winter 2020/2021 issue of Portland Monthly

Jordan Herrle - Winner: Young Leader

When she was 14, Jordan Herrle—diagnosed with cancer at age 9 and again at 11—wanted nothing to do with Camp Ukandu. “I didn’t want to go back to anything that reminded me of how scary [cancer] was,” Herrle says.

But at the weeklong, 100 percent free camp for 130 kids ages 8 to 18 battling cancer, Herrle found what she describes as a family, where she could climb the rock wall, and dance without being treated differently. The experience, Herrle says, restored her childhood.

Herrle, now 27, has returned to Camp Ukandu pretty much every summer since then—as a camper, then a camp leader. Last year, Camp Ukandu’s executive director, Jason Hickox, asked her to join the camp’s six-member leadership team. She’s their youngest member, and one of its most influential forces.

Hers is often the first friendly face that greets campers. She coordinates activities and plans camp themes and dances. This year, camp was held virtually, so Herrle hosted Zoom chat sessions with kids, and delivered bags filled with activities and s’mores kits.

Last year, Herrle spoke about Camp Ukandu to a group of researchers, clinicians, and patients at Oregon Health & Science University’s Knight Cancer Center, as part of a series of science talks.She also volunteers at Candlelighters, a childhood cancer support organization, and at the Sam Day Foundation, which advocates for increased funding for childhood cancer research. All this while working as a medical assistant at OHSU’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, the same hospital where she herself was treated as a child.

“As a volunteer, she’s a hard worker. As a survivor of cancer, she’s a lover of life,” says Hickox. “Both of those traits make her a role model for volunteers and young people.” 

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