Stories of Survival

Surviving Cancer: ‘[Cancer] Changes Your Whole Perspective’

Tatum Parker and Dick Vitale










Tatum Parker with Dick Vitale



We have defining moments in life when we have to “grow up.” These moments are often preceded by events that most of us would agree aren’t fair. You didn’t make the team when you were the best hitter. You have to pay for an accident you didn’t cause. It’s not fair, but hey … you have to grow up and deal with it.

Those are the moments when we must mature, and over a lifetime, they combine to help make us the adults we are today. With luck, we have just enough to make us good decision makers but not too many to permanently scar us.

There are some people whose defining moments present a much tougher uphill climb. We call those people survivors.

Tatum Parker is a 14-year-old, two-time cancer survivor from Indiana. Her first life-isn’t-fair moment came when she was six years old. Ironically, she didn’t even know it. She sat, laughing and watching cartoons, as her parents were informed of her cancer diagnosis. She didn’t know what her parents tears were for. She didn’t comprehend what the treatments would mean. But, she did know her life was different once her treatments started.

“I didn’t really care that I was missing the first day of kindergarten,” she remembered. “But I hated hearing that my brothers were going to the zoo, and I couldn’t because I couldn’t be around other people.”

The second time she found out she had cancer, she was still just a child, but with a larger scientific vocabulary than most adults. She had already been around the treatment block once, and she knew what was coming again. This time, Tatum cried.

“It changed my life completely,” she said when asked how cancer has influenced her life. “It changes your whole perspective. You question every day if you’re going to make it.”

Tatum has had two big defining moments so far. They weren’t fair, and she’s grown a whole lifetime in just eight years. But she is a survivor. Cancer changed her life, and now she is changing the life of every child diagnosed with cancer in the state of Indiana.

Through a contact her dad had, Tatum was given a bag of fun stuff to help her through the hospital stays and treatments. It contained art projects, games and toys.

“I was so excited,” she said. “I always took the things to the hospital, and they kept me busy. It got me through my treatments.”

After her first set of treatments, she and her family saw a need in their home state. Tatum’s life-changing moment was about to have a big impact on every kid having his or her own moment.

“There were lots of kids whose parents couldn’t be there all day – whether because of work or other kids to take care of. They might sit there bored and watching TV all day. So I thought, ‘Why not start this here?’ I contacted The Gabby Krause Foundation. They had given me my bag. They helped in the beginning. We contacted the nurses to find out the genders and ages of the kids getting diagnosed. Then we hooked up with Samsonite for the bags; then we got donations and a website,” she explained.

While undergoing her second round of treatments, she was able to deliver the bags personally. The rewards weren’t just a one-way street.

“It helped parents see me, to see a survivor walk in,” Tatum said. “And it was really touching and inspiring to see how the bags helped the kids.”

Today, Tatum is a regular teenager, going to school and playing softball. She just happens to be a really mature teenager. It’s not often you meet a kid who wants to help every single pediatric cancer patient in her state. And it’s not often you meet a kid who knows the importance of funding cancer research.

“[Cancer research] is very important,” she said. “So many people are diagnosed every day. We need to save these people’s lives. You never know who you could be saving – that could be your next president.”