Experiencing more than any young girl should, Tatum Parker turned her individual fight against cancer into a fight for others, building the Tatum Parker Project
She has survived cancer twice, started her own non-profit, enriched the lives of thousands of children across Indiana and has bigger hopes for the future… all before graduating high school. The prospect of college applications may be daunting now, but nothing has stopped Tatum Parker, currently a junior at North Central, from fighting the good fight.
Diagnosed when she was just six years old, Tatum began a year-long battle with Ewing’s sarcoma. She underwent three major surgeries and 13 rounds of chemotherapy to beat her cancer, but unfortunately, she had a relapse in December 2008. Tatum bravely fought cancer for another year, and now, she’s been cancer-free since September 2009. It was more than any young child should be forced to bear, but her experiences opened her eyes to a larger possibility. Receiving a backpack full of goodies from the Gabby Cross Foundation (based in Colorado) gave her life and something to carry with pride to each cancer treatment. It also got her and her family thinking.
“When I was done with treatment, my family and I decided to start Tatum’s Bags of Fun,” Parker said. “We give backpacks to every child diagnosed with cancer in Indiana and they are filled to the brim with games, toys, electronic devices, and we’ve been doing it ever since.”
Two-thousand bags later, the idea has inspired so many others. Tatum became a pre-teen celebrity throughout the country, getting the attention of high profile faces like ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale and NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon. Today, the Tatum Parker Project has become more than just a vehicle for bringing joy to kids fighting cancer. It has added to its mission to help end pediatric cancer worldwide. It was a big jump, especially on the fundraising side, but one that Parker has become outspoken about.
“Our goal has always been to make it bigger,” Parker says with pride. “We’ve always wanted to do something with cancer research. Not enough money goes to pediatric cancers. Only two percent goes to pediatrics.”
Today, through fundraisers, communication and awareness campaigns, Parker and her family keep the bags of fun flowing to the three hospitals in Indiana that serve, on average, 300 children who are diagnosed each year. Simultaneously, as Parker finds her adult voice, her role as an activist for pediatric cancer research keeps her passion moving forward. It will always be a part of her life, which may include a career in medicine to help fight pediatric cancer in the trenches. An active North Central student (she’s a Counterpoint and involved in many student activities), Parker has lived a lifetime in just 17 years.
“I am so grateful to be alive. I am so grateful to be able to do the normal things my friends get to do. I see the world in a whole new perspective. Seeing kids [in the hospital], I am more able to empathize with them. I was once in those shoes and I can help you.”