Survivor Story: Tatum Parker

About four weeks before my sixth birthday, I woke up in the morning screaming with knee pain so horrible I could hardly walk. I had been having these knee pains off and on for a few weeks, but nothing compared to this. My parents rushed me to the emergency room, where I was thrown into an abundance of scanning machines. After hours of tests, IVs and scans, the doctor came in and gave my parents the news. I had a tumor in my right femur. It was Ewing’s Sarcoma.

Just a day or so later, I was sent to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, had a biopsy, and got my central line put in. Of course, as a six-year old, I had no idea what cancer meant, but the amazing team of nurses and doctors I had helped explain it all. I would lose my hair, have 13 rounds of chemo, have a big surgery to remove six inches of my femur with a metal plate (that I would then go on to break and get replaced for a second time), and many other things. I was in and out of the hospital for about a year, missing all of kindergarten. I was then in remission.

A year later, I was at my monthly check up when my doctor noticed something small but mighty on my CT scan. I had another tumor, but this time in my right lung. I had another biopsy a few days later and it was yet again Ewing’s Sarcoma. My doctors sat me down and explained it all again. 13 more rounds of chemo, 25 rounds of radiation, and of course, my hair would all fall out again (which was the worst part for me, being an 8 year-old girl at the time). I was in and out of the hospital for another year, missing most of second grade.

Having cancer, as one would guess, sucks. You’re stuck in a hospital room with a TV, your parents (if you’re lucky like I was), and nurses who wake you up at 2 AM to take your temperature and blood pressure. Some kids don’t even have that. I met kids who had no family members that could stay with them. They were young, scared, and stuck in a hospital all alone for days, weeks, and even months. It was meeting those kids that I decided to start an organization.

My hope in starting the Tatum Parker Project is that I can use my story to inspire others to fight, persevere, and give back. It is amazing the impact acts of kindness can have.

When I was first diagnosed in 2006, I received a huge backpack in the mail. It was filled to the top with craft kits, books, cards, little games, stuffed animals, and a GameBoy! It was from the Gabby Krause Foundation in Colorado and I took it with me whenever I went to the hospital, which was quite a lot. When I was done with my first battle with cancer, my family and I decided to give back to the hospital for all they had done.

We started Tatum’s Bags of Fun in August of 2008, a nonprofit organization where we give backpacks filled with $350 worth of games, toys, books, electronics and more to every child diagnosed with cancer in Indiana. My hope was that by giving bags to kids with cancer, I could throw some joy into a dark part of their life. I wanted to inspire these kids and their families by showing them that although cancer is a tough battle, they can win. My family and I have been giving out these backpacks for almost 10 years now. We’ve given out over 3,000 bags! For as amazing as that may sound, 3,000 bags means 3,000 kids have been diagnosed with cancer in Indiana alone in less than 10 years. That is a scary big number. I started to ask myself, was giving backpacks the most that I could do? I mean, sure, we can give backpacks and bring joy and hope to kids who need it, but how is that going to cure them? It is with this that my family and I decided to rebrand. We changed our name to the Tatum Parker Project.

The Tatum Parker Project not only gives backpacks to every child diagnosed with cancer in Indiana, but we also donate money to endowments and organizations that fund pediatric cancer research. As shocking as it sounds, only $0.04 of every $1.00 given to cancer research goes towards pediatric cancer research. Children’s lives are worth more than a feeble 4%. My hope in starting the Tatum Parker Project is that I can use my story to inspire others to fight, persevere, and give back. It is amazing the impact acts of kindness can have.

Be strong. Stay strong.


Learn more about all the wonderful work being done by Tatum and the Tatum Parker Project.