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Children’s Cancer Network offers support as terrible diagnosis can reverberate through siblings

Photo of Ben Gokee at the Children's Cancer Network
A kind gesture from Children’s Cancer Network years ago made such an impression on Ben Gokee, aboce, that he eventually started working as an intern at CCN while studying Public Health at Grand Canyon University. (File Photos/
A story of courage at the Children’s Cancer Network on National Siblings Days
Staff Reports | Digital Free Press

When Ben Gokee was 11 and his brother, Cooper, was 8, Cooper fell while getting out of the shower.

Due to his intense pain, the family feared Cooper had broken his hip, but bloodwork in a hospital emergency department showed Cooper had acute lymphoblastic leukemia and what’s known as the Philadelphia chromosome, which decreased his chances for recovery and prolonged his treatment.

The diagnosis put the family on a long, 4-year journey, which included driving back and forth three times a week from Maricopa to Phoenix for Cooper to receive his cancer treatment.

“I was in 6th grade at the time,” Ben Gokee said. “I missed school. My life was school and hospital or just the hospital to be there for my brother.”

Then one day Ben received a care package from the nonprofit Children’s Cancer Network at the hospital while he was visiting his brother.

“It was addressed just to me through the All-Star Sibling program,” he said. “I felt so seen. I had been feeling isolated. I didn’t have many friends and I was being bullied at school. I spent all my time with my family. You know your role. You don’t say, ‘Hey, Mom and Dad, what about me?’”

That gesture from Children’s Cancer Network made such an impression on Ben that, years later, he started working as an intern at CCN while studying Public Health at Grand Canyon University. Today, at 22, he is a full-time program specialist at CCN who was instrumental in helping to open the nonprofit’s Let’s Move Center a year ago.

Patti Luttrell, CCN executive director and co-founder, said CCN created the All-Star Sibling program to support siblings as they struggle with anxiety and a jumble of emotions and concerns that can occur when a brother or sister receives treatment for cancer.

“Sadly, Ben’s experience is common. Cancer can be very scary for the entire family, but it’s particularly hard on siblings,” Ms. Luttrell said. “In addition to psychosocial support, Children’s Cancer Network also provides scholarships for siblings to help ease the overwhelming financial responsibilities that families face when a child is being treated for cancer.”

Ben and his brother Cooper years ago when the younger brother was diagnosed with cancer. (File Photos/
A story of courage at the Children’s Cancer Network on National Siblings Days

Ms. Luttrell offers these tips for helping siblings cope when their brother or sister has cancer:

  • Be honest, open and inclusive with your children in an age-appropriate way about cancer. Sometimes the unknown is worse than the known. Enlist the help of a child life specialist from your health care team. CCN offers a range of resources that can help as well.
  • Acknowledge feelings and worries. Fear, anxiety, anger, jealousy, guilt, sadness and grief are emotions that can all be experienced by siblings of cancer warriors. Reassurance and support can help siblings realize these are normal. Work together to find safe, effective ways to cope.
  • Keep up routines to the best of your ability. Continue with school and extracurricular activities as possible. Engage friends and family to widen the support for you and your family while helping to maintain daily routines.
  • Connect daily with each of your children. Hearing your voice, feeling your support, or just knowing you are thinking of them through a text can make all the difference to siblings of almost any age. Each week, find an activity that you can do together. Whether it’s cooking or walking around the neighborhood, find an activity that helps you unwind and relax together.
  • Help your children keep in touch. Calls, texts, artwork, visits, cards, emails can all keep the lines of communication open between siblings.
  • Ask for help. Monitor for changes in behavior and ask for help when your child is in distress. Your health care team can help you enlist a professional counselor to guide you through tough times as needed.

Ms. Luttrell and Mr. Gokee are preparing for the Children’s Cancer Network’s 13th Annual Run to Fight Children’s Cancer. The popular fundraising event, which celebrates survivorship and honors those who have lost their battle, takes place on Saturday, May 6, at Mesa’s Riverview Park. Individuals and teams can register for the May 6 Run to Fight Children’s Cancer HERE.

In addition, Children’s Cancer Network has been designated by the state of Arizona as a Qualified Charitable Organization where donors filing in the state receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for cumulative donations up to $400 for individual filings and $800 for joint filings on their state income tax returns.

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