Fundraiser run helps cancer-stricken kids

Elilai Ramarui, 9, will lead the Children’s Cancer Network’s Run to Fight Children’s Cancer this Saturday, May 6, at Riverview Park in Mesa. The victim of a rare bone cancer, Elilai appeared in the Chandler nonprofit’s fashion show fudnraiser last month at Phoenix Art Museum. (Courtesy of the Children’s Cancer Network)

A 9-year-old East Valley girl with a rare bone cancer is leading Chandler-based Children’s Cancer Network’s 13th annual Run to Fight Children’s Cancer on Saturday, May 6, at Riverview Park in Mesa.

Elilai Ramarui of Ahwatukee was chosen by the nonprofit as this year’s poster child for its work in assisting families with children stricken by cancer.

Children’s Cancer Network was founded in 2004 by Patti and Stephen Luttrell following their son Jeff’s extended cancer battle.

Having experienced many years of grappling with their son’s cancer, various treatments, relapses, and then new cancers, they know personally what families undergo when they’re blindsided by childhood cancer.

“When we started Children’s Cancer Network 20 years ago, we were determined to provide assistance to children at all stages of their cancer journey as well as their family members,” said , who serves as CEO of the nonprofit while her husband is president.

“We provide financial assistance, promote education, encourage healthy lifestyles, build self-esteem, and help others understand what it’s like for a family to battle childhood cancer,” she said. “Most importantly, our support doesn’t end when chemo ends; we’re there for the long haul.”

Elilai was diagnosed in March 2022 with Ewing sarcoma, which first manifested with a swollen arm.

Over 20 cycles of chemotherapy and 32 days of radiation, the Summit School of Ahwatukee third grader has proven to be resilient and, according to her parents, Melody Orak and Abel Ramarui, “spunky” as she is back in school.

The Children’s Cancer Network Run to Fight Children’s Cancer is the nonprofit’s signature that celebrates survivorship and honors kids who lost their battle.

Elite runners, weekend joggers and walkers are among those participating in the 13th annual event that begins with the 10K run at 7 a.m., followed by the 5K run at 7:45 a.m.

A celebratory Cancer Survivor Walk steps off at 9 a.m., with walkers circling a small pond within Mesa Riverview Park. It is also possible to participate as a virtual runner.

Though the Cancer Survivor walk is free, pre-registration is recommended.

Registration for all the 13th Annual ‘Run To Fight Children’s Cancer’ events, including virtual runner, can be done online at

Also available on the website is the story behind the Luttrells’ founding of the nonprofit two decades ago.

Their son, Jeff, was only 5 when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Following that August 1993 diagnosis, he underwent multiple rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and finally a bone marrow transplant to treat the initial te disease and four subsequent relapses.

Nine years after being cancer-free, Jeff was diagnosed with a secondary cancer of the tongue that required numerous surgeries and two types of radiation. Four years later, it reoccurred.

It was through these experiences that the parents, and Jeff’s sister Jenny, gained an empathy for other parents facing a tumultuous cancer journey.

“Our organization grew from our daughter Jenny’s vision to put on a fashion show featuring children dealing with cancer and their siblings,” Patti wrote.

“While visiting her brother in the hospital one night during his bone marrow transplant, a young girl in the next room passed away. Her family was at her bedside to say their goodbyes.

“Shortly after her passing, it was realized that the family didn’t have money to put gas in their car to get home to Phoenix,” she recalled.

“This was an eye-opening experience for Jenny, then a high school freshman. It did not seem fair that a family grieving for the loss of their daughter also had to worry about finding cash to make the drive home to Phoenix.”

The annual Inspirations Fashion Show continues, and Elilai was proud to be one of this year’s models for the March event at the Phoenix Art Museum.

Children’s Cancer Network also arranged for the youngster to cheer at a girls’ varsity basketball game at Gilbert’s Williams Field High School.

Elilai’s mother said CCN has helped Elilai “live her best life” since their family made the connection through their Honoring Our Peers Everyday program, which provides speakers to help explain childhood cancer in an age-appropriate way.

“Abel and I were looking into the HOPE program to go out to Elilai’s school and talk to the kids about where she’d been this whole time and what she had been doing. She’d been diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma in March and didn’t attend school,” Melody explained.

“The HOPE program explained really well to Elilai’s class the type of cancer she had, her treatments, why she lost her hair, but most importantly that she was still the ‘same Elila.’”

“Since becoming so involved with CCN, our family has become a part of a club that you really don’t want to belong to. But you know everyone you come across, including Steve and Patti Luttrell, have walked your walk and they get you without saying anything,” she added.

“It was comforting to Abel and me to have these fun experiences for Elilai to see her smile and not think about cancer, treatment, medication or upcoming scans. Now, Elilai is excited to be this year’s race starter. She’s always been spunky, but she’s even more determined now to live her best life.”

Donations can be made to Team Elilai and other specific teams and runners online at CCN.

Children’s Cancer Network has a wealth of programs available to families of children with cancer – including scholarships to childhood cancer survivors or immediate family members whose lives and college savings were affected by childhood cancer.

The John W. Luttrell Scholarships, established in 2005, are named for Stephen Luttrell’s father, who succumbed to brain cancer.

Among other programs and services, the nonprofit commits $100,000 annually for gas and food cards to families in need.

In the last two years, it has also purchased and donated bus passes and cafeteria passes as needed, at the request of the pediatric oncology social workers.


(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.