One word appears repeatedly across the Riley Champion nominations for Tatum Parker: The 9-year-old’s doctors, nurses, family friends and community leaders wholeheartedly agree that Tatum is “inspirational.”
In 2006, Tatum was a month shy of her sixth birthday when she was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer. She endured 13 rounds of chemotherapy at Riley Hospital for Children and three major surgeries, including one that replaced four inches of her right femur with a metal rod. Cancer returned in November 2008 in her right lung, and Tatum began 11 more rounds of chemo.
“I plan to kick cancer’s butt once again, but this time for good!” she said.
On October 5, 2009, Tatum “rang the bell” at Riley Hospital to celebrate excellent test results and the end of her treatment. She will continue to have regular scans.
“Tatum has a no-nonsense attitude about doing what she needs to do to conquer her cancer and persevere,” says Marta Carter, a family friend whose daughter attends Tatum’s school, Spring Mill Elementary in Indianapolis.
While Tatum was undergoing her first round of treatment, the Colorado-based Gabby Krause Foundation gave her a backpack full of educational, interactive and silly toys designed to brighten her day. Tatum decided to do the same for other Riley Hospital patients. In August 2008 she launched Tatum’s Bags of Fun under the auspices of the Krause Foundation. Tatum’s nonprofit organization began to distribute backpacks filled with age-appropriate activities to children age 2 and older on their first day of cancer treatment.
When Tatum relapsed a few months later, her overwhelmed parents wondered if they could keep the program going. “Tatum said, ‘We have to do it,’” her mom recalls. Their daughter’s insistence inspired Jayson and Kendra Parker to continue.
Now the Parkers-often with younger brothers Tynan, 6, and Truitt, 3, in tow-donate their time and energy to buy materials for the bags. They used their own money until local fundraisers as well as corporations and individuals started helping.
The Parkers receive a list with the age and gender of each patient, and Tatum loves choosing items for the bags. “Because we’re at the hospital so much, she gets to meet these kids
and see them with their bags,” Kendra says. In its first year, Tatum’s Bags of Fun provided 250 backpacks to pediatric cancer patients.
Tatum looks forward to returning to her third-grade classroom. While her creative and selfless efforts continue to help other children, this Champion’s heart is as big as her smile.
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