Children's Cancer Network Was Begun From Family's Concern for Others

By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau 

The children range from preschool boys to high school girls, many with a similarly bald head, each hoping to survive.  

They also share a connection through the non-profit Children’s Cancer Network. The organization founded by a Grand Canyon University nursing instructor continues to reach more victims of childhood cancer through events such as GCU’s Run to Fight Children’s Cancer on March 10. 

The fall 5K and 10K races raised more than $30,000 for childhood cancer patients, featured a survivors’ walk with young outpatients, and introduced the GCU community to the fast-growing non-profit. Event planners hope that March will eclipse last year’s donations.  

Patti Luttrell’s organization helps Arizona families find comfort and stability through the medical bills and hospital visits that come with a childhood cancer diagnosis. Volunteers connect with hospitals and social workers to find families struggling to cope with the financial stress of a cancer diagnosis. 

The gift of a prepaid gas card, or a care package with sundry items such as toothpaste, makes a big impact with low-income families faced with a seriously ill child. 

“Nothing beats the courage and strength of these kids and their families,” said Luttrell, who works as a full-time assistant professor in GCU’s College of Nursing. 

“We try to reach the families with what they need at the time they need it, and help the hospitals to do that.” 

Children’s Cancer Network recently reached the $100,000 mark, which Luttrell said her family was proud of, considering the charity reported around $7,000 in annual donations nine years ago. She said 91 cents on the donated dollar goes to families in need.  

Donations help Children’s Cancer Network put together admissions baskets for inpatients, collect bus cards to help families get home from the hospital, and organize fun events such as an annual fashion show fundraiser for the kids.  

Luttrell co-founded the organization with her husband, Steve, several years ago at the urging of their then-teenage daughter. 

Luttrell’s son, Jeff, then 12, was awaiting a bone marrow transplant at University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson for leukemia. Their daughter, Jenny, was a freshman in high school at the time when she brought up the idea of starting a non-profit to help families impacted by childhood cancer. Jeff, now 23, faced several recurrences of cancer but is now free of the disease. 

Jenny became passionate about starting something from scratch after the Luttrells met the family of a Phoenix child who had just died at the U of A hospital. The parents drained so much of their limited income on medical expenses that they had no money for gas to get back to the Valley. 

“All it takes is an 18-year-old with no fear, and then all of a sudden you have a budding non-profit going,” Luttrell said. 

About 75 percent of the childhood cancer cases in Arizona are treated at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, according to hospital staff. With so many patients, Children’s Cancer Network helps make families feel comfortable at the hospital. 

“Childhood cancer hits at every part of the family’s life,” said Andrea White-Collins, a Children’s Cancer Network board member who serves as a pediatric oncology nurse practitioner at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. 

“It’s time away from work that parents are taking, it’s added expenses that even if they have good insurance are not covered,” she said. 

Children’s Cancer Network also provides an educational component for families, in addition to health and wellness programs for childhood cancer patients, such as helping teen cancer patients get fitted for wigs. 

The organization promotes scholarships for survivors and is currently funding a study on the effectiveness of common cancer drugs on youths. 

To enter the Run to Fight Children’s Cancer, which has 5K and 10K races that start and finish at GCU Arena, go to www.runtofightcancer.com

For more on Children’s Cancer Network, go to www.childrenscancernetwork.org

Contact Michael Ferraresi at [email protected].

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