Nonprofit gives

Gathered for a break at the Children’s Cancer Network in Chandler, from left: Kenslye Houlik (7), Joe Houlik, Everly Houlik (5), Kambryee Houlik (9), Kelannie Houlik (7), Ashley Houlik, Bentley Houlik (11), Ben Gokee and Brayleigh Houlik (10). (David Minton/Staff Photographer)

Children who are battling cancer spend a lot of time in bed, probably too much. The National Cancer Institute has started encouraging those young cancer patients to get out of their beds and to move.

One Chandler nonprofit is ready to help make that happen.

The Children’s Cancer Network (CCN) has converted its warehouse into a Let’s Move Center, where kids battling the disease can play basketball, air hockey, foosball, or do dance and yoga.

And the benefits are obvious.

“Getting them to move and so, [helps build] stronger bones, stronger muscles, better flexibility, better immune system, and they sleep better,” said Patti Luttrell, co-founder and executive director of CCN.

Not to mention, they’re having a lot of fun.

“That’s the main one,”said CCN program specialist Ben Gokee said. He’s a program specialist with CCN. “We realized that our goal is to improve physical, mental, and social health. It's crazy how you can hit all three. It's something we've learned. We didn't even know we could do that.”

Steve and Patti Luttrell and their daughter Jenny started the Children’s Cancer Network after their son and brother Jeff battled leukemia since he was 5. He continued to deal with cancer until he was 25, but is now free from the disease.

During his journey Jenny decided to do a fashion show, auction and luncheon for families undergoing bone marrow transplants. As they were preparing for the show, a young girl in the next room to her brother’s died. Her family did not have the gas money to get home.

Children’s Cancer Network helps supports families who are dealing with childhood cancer. The Fiesta Bowl gave CCN a $50,000 grant to build the Let’s Move Center.

“The most common cancer [for children is] leukemia,” Patti Luttrell said. “Three years of treatment, it's a long time to be not feeling good, curled up sleeping in bed, playing video games, just really not moving at all. Nothing good comes from that for any of us, let alone if you're battling cancer. So the National Cancer Institute started to say, ‘Look, we got to really focus on physical activity.’”

Luttrell rented five large storage containers that were in the parking lot of their building at Chandler Boulevard and Kyrene Road. CCN did a soft launch of the Let’s Move Center in May and have been fine-tuning it ever since. 

One need the new playroom has helped fill involves patients with immune issues who need some place to have fun. Now they have somewhere they can go.

“We had received a call from a mom, who has a 6-year-old and a 12-year-old and it was the 12-year-old’s birthday and he was in cancer treatment. The 6-year-old wanted desperately to take him to play video games together. It just wasn't possible. The mom had tried, she called businesses saying, ‘Can we come in before you open? Or after you close? Or can I come in and hyper clean one lane? And they said no.”

Then she asked if they could do something in the Let’s Move Center, just her family. Luttrell said yes. 

“My kids beg to come,” said Ashley Houlik, mother of 7-year-old cancer patient Kenslye. “I mean, beg to come. They love to play, get their energy out for one, and also to connect with people who have been in similar journeys.”

Ashley and her husband, Joe, said one benefit of the Let’s Move Center is how much it has helped their daughter’s five siblings.

“Kenslye has had so much support in her cancer journey,” Ashley said. “I think her siblings are the ones that have struggled the most. And it's amazing that the Cancer Network allows them to have those opportunities to connect with other kids.”

But there are benefits for the patient as well.

“Being able to move has been the biggest struggle for her,” Ashley said. “When she was admitted she was in isolation for, gosh, almost two months. She didn’t move at all. And then she was so sick with cancer that she didn't want to. So it’s been really fun to let her be herself.”

Information: 602-717-9139, childrenscancernetwork.org

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