The night that Jeff Luttrell, then 5, received his cancer diagnosis, he fell asleep on the couch. His parents, Patti and Steve Luttrell, laid down on the floor next to him, overcome with fear. 

“There were so many emotions at once,” Steve recalls. “Your whole world changes. You wonder who is going to care for your child, how is your other child going to handle it, will insurance cover his treatment. But the main emotion was, ‘Is he going to stay alive? How long will he be with us?’”

The Luttrells felt some relief after meeting with Jeff’s doctors at Phoenix Children’s and agreeing on a plan of action. But life never returned to normal. Over the next three decades, Jeff went through multiple rounds of treatment, numerous surgeries and several relapses. They call it their “double life”: when Jeff was doing well, it was school and Cub Scouts; when the cancer returned, it was debilitating sickness and hospital visits. 

But one night, sitting by her brother’s hospital bed, Jeff’s older sister, Jenny, then 14, reflected on how lucky she was. Her family had been through so much, but they had each other, and they had the means to meet most of the challenges that cancer had thrown their way. She knew that not every family affected by cancer was as fortunate.

“I think it was our strength, the four of us together—that was how we survived,” says Patti. “That was how we found a way to turn everything we learned into something positive.”

Steve, Patti and Jeff Luttrell complete a puzzle together

Paying it forward

The Luttrells had come to realize that cancer takes a complex toll on the entire family. They learned the physical, emotional and financial costs can be as debilitating as the disease itself. And they knew from experience that even an excellent hospital-like Phoenix Children’s could only do so much—beyond the medicine—to cover those costs. 

In 2005, the Luttrells founded Children’s Cancer Network (CCN), an organization that helps children and families affected by cancer navigate the experience through financial assistance and education—from food and gas vouchers to school supplies and mental health support. To date, CCN has raised widespread child cancer awareness as well as over $1.3 million for Phoenix Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders—funds that have helped the Center grow into a destination program serving Arizona children of all means and backgrounds.

Twenty-five years after his first diagnosis, Jeff, now 32, has been cancer free for four years. “Phoenix Children’s is so special to me,” he says. “Knowing that my family’s experience with cancer is now making a positive impact on children there means everything.”

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