She works tirelessly for cancer-stricken families SanTan Sun News

She works tirelessly for cancer-stricken families

She works tirelessly for cancer-stricken families
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By Coty Dolores Miranda
Contributor

Nancy Houser has a passion for Children’s Cancer Network — one that she has translated into 15 years of service.

With September pegged as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, the Ahwatukee woman is hoping her years of experience volunteering for the home-grown nonprofit will spark interest in others to join her.

Children’s Cancer Network (CCN) was founded by Steve and Patti Luttrell after their son, Jeff, only 5, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 1993.

The inspiration came from their daughter, Jenny, who organized a fashion show to benefit families of other cancer families after learning that a mother and father didn’t know how they could afford gas to drive home after they tended to their dying daughter in the hospital.

In 2005, the Luttrells founded Children’s Cancer Network, which currently maintains offices in Chandler. Its staff and volunteers regularly visit Phoenix Children’s Hospital, other Arizona hospitals serving cancer families, as well as outpatient clinics like the PCH East Valley Specialty Care Center in Mesa.

Patti Luttrell now serves as CCN Executive Director and Steve as Board President. Jenny Luttrell Lane currently resides in San Diego and Jeff Luttrell is a multi-time cancer survivor.

The Hauser family also experienced the trauma of childhood cancer when their younger daughter, Kara, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma childhood cancer/stage 4.

She was only 8 months old.

“Chemo, countless surgeries, radiation, many doctors visits and hospital stays, endless tests, and all with a wonderful team of professionals,” recalled Houser of the years of debilitating but ultimately successful treatments.

When Kara was in middle school, Houser attended a Children’s Cancer Network conference and met Patti Luttrell, who told  her of the annual spring fashion show events and accompanying live and silent auctions.

“I learned, among many other things, about their annual spring fashion show where the models are the patients and survivors,” said the Minnesota-born Houser, who taught 27 years in four states before retiring in 2010.

“I started making gift baskets, and soon was given the name ‘Basket Babe.’ I was hooked,” added Houser, who estimated that she assembles “200 to 250 baskets at least” annually.

She said she soon recruited her husband Ken as a Cancer Network photographer, her older daughter Allison as her assistant and Kara as one of the models.

The family has made Ahwatukee their home for nearly 30 years. Allison Houser, who lives in Portland, and Kara Houser, a Phoenix resident, are now 29 and 26, respectively.

And still, Nancy Houser finds time to donate her time and efforts to Children’s Cancer Network.

“I now create gift baskets for any occasion: the fashion show, our golf tournament, Mother’s Day Tea, holiday pasta baskets, conferences, whatever,” said the former educator, whose last teaching position was 12 years ago at Ahwatukee Preschool.

She said she volunteers with Children’s Cancer Network because she remembers the pain of having a child suffering from cancer.

She knows first-hand the families’ trauma of roller coaster emotions — from initial diagnosis to battling the disease with rounds of chemo, radiation, surgeries — and in some cases, even a bone marrow transplant.

“Children’s Cancer Network is a wonderful organization with hardworking and talented volunteers helping families throughout Arizona. We realize this cancer journey affects the whole family throughout treatment and afterwards, as well,” she said, adding:

“Sometimes it’s the small things that will help them along. It feels so very good to help to put a smile on their faces, if only for a bit. It certainly helped our family.”

Houser does a great deal more than create beautiful gift baskets.

Starting in October, she said she’ll start “working super hard” as she prepares for the annual Tommy Bahama Sunset Classic — a golf tournament-fundraiser for Children’s Cancer Network that will be held Dec. 9, at the Westin Kierland Golf Club.

She is constantly scouring local stores for deals as she puts together event baskets, the various holiday baskets — and looking ahead to the annual fashion show, Inspirations 2020: Desert Blooms, which will be held Feb. 23 at the Camelback Inn and feature patients and survivors as models.

“I also shop for back to school and holiday surprises, helping families in their cancer journey. Cancer hits you emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially, and it affects the whole family,” she said.

Hauser also hits the local grocery stores and retail mega stores for food items that she delivers to Phoenix Children’s for parents, especially those on extended hospital stays, “so they can have something to nibble on, and maybe brighten their day.”

Along with another volunteer, Hauser hosts the “CCN Café” the third Wednesday of each month — a small support group for parents of children in the oncology ward.

Once again, her personal experience with her own child’s cancer fight allows her further empathy with these parents’ trials.

“We get together to visit, laugh, cry and munch on a delicious goodie. Each family is on a cancer journey and every journey is different. But unless you’ve been there, you really don’t know what the family is going through. It’s tough! Any cancer is, especially when it affects a child,” she said.

In addition to these efforts for CCN, Hauser also serves as a volunteer for each Wednesday on the Phoenix Children’s Hospital hematology/oncology floor, often making CCN food deliveries there at the same time.

“I pretty much help Children’s Cancer Network where and when I can, wherever and whenever they need me. It’s a tremendous organization,” she said. “I have a strong belief that when a person retires, you must volunteer somewhere.”

“I found my niche.”

Children’s Cancer Network is glad she has.

“Nancy is one of the core members of our organization. Her care, talents and skills impact our cancer fighters and their families, our staff, our volunteers and our donors,” said Patti Luttrell. “Her gifts are many and she makes a difference to so many. We can’t thank Nancy enough for all she does.”

Houser is creating baskets for the network’s CHAMP 5K Run & Walk Sept. 14 at Kiwanis Park in Tempe.

Children’s Cancer Network is one of 20 non-profit organizations collaborating on the event, which raises awareness of childhood cancer causes and “celebrates the childhood cancer community.”

CHAMP, an acronym for Cancer Hope & Awareness Month for Pediatrics, is a non-profit as well. More information is on their website SeptemberCHAMP.org.

For more information on the Children’s Cancer Network: ChildrensCancerNetwork.org.

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