Tatum Parker is extraordinarily adorable, but that’s only one of the things extraordinary about this girl. When she was six years-old, Tatum was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, a rare bone tumor in her right femur. She went through a year of chemotherapy treatments and several surgeries, and became cancer-free … for about eighteen months. She was then diagnosed with the same kind of cancer in her right lung, and she went through another year of chemotherapy and radiation to treat it.
She’s now been cancer-free for about three years, but Tatum’s not taking her return to health lying down. She knows how weak and tired people feel when going through cancer-fighting treatments. And she knows how bored kids can get during the downtime. When she was first diagnosed, Tatum received a “Bag of Fun” from the Denver-based Gabby Krause Foundation, named in honor of a young girl who’d passed away from cancer. The bag was filled with toys and activities that really helped Tatum get through those long, hard days and nights in the hospital.
When Tatum got well, she and her family decided to start a similar organization in their home state of Indiana. That’s how Tatum’s Bags of Fun was born. “My family and I were so touched by the gift and it really helped me through my treatments,” explains Tatum. “We saw a great need for entertainment in the hospital, especially for patients without parents by their side.”
Tatum’s Bags of Fun includes all kinds of things to lift the spirits and occupy cancer-stricken children while they undergo their treatments in the hospital. Tatum’s distributes about 300 backpacks a year, filled with games, toys, crafts and activities. Packs include dolls, books, stuffed animals, DVDs and DVD players, Leapsters for the younger kids, and a Nintendo DS or iPod Touch for the older children.
You can find out more – and make a donation on her incredible website. Meanwhile, I was lucky to get some insights from this remarkable “Like a Boss Girl” on what it’s like to make a difference and really help others at such a young age. (You can also see how poised this veteran is at just 12; she answers every question like a pro by including the question in the beginning of her answer –something I often can’t even get adults to do!) Read on to learn how Tatum started her own charity at the age of eight and how she keeps it alive:
You can really empathize with these kids because you’ve been where they are. Does that impact what you do and how you do it?
TATUM: Cancer sucks, as you have probably heard many times before, so whenever I hear of someone being diagnosed I immediately feel for them. When I get the chance to personally deliver the bags to patients, I often walk into the room and see children who look distressed. A lot of times the girls will be super self-conscious especially due to the fact they have just lost their hair. What tends to be the first thing I tell the child and his or her family is that I myself had cancer twice when I was younger. The adults especially take great comfort in knowing that I have had cancer not once, but twice and I am doing just fine. I think that because I can empathize with the kids and I understand all that they are going through, I have much more of a passion for what I do. Having an organization at my age can get stressful, especially with school and extracurricular activities, but there is no way I would ever think about stopping what I do because I know how it helps these kids.
What was the first thing you did when you decided to start your own charity, and where did you go from there?
TATUM: We started by contacting the Gabby Krause Foundation. They were so ecstatic to know that the bag they sent me had inspired me to start a Bags of Fun in Indiana. They helped us with our start, and then we were on our own. At the beginning we only made bags for the children diagnosed with cancer at Riley Hospital for Children here in Indianapolis. After doing that for a while, and having great success, we expanded to helping kids at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital. We finally expanded a tad more with Riley North Hospital. Every child diagnosed with cancer in Indiana must filter through one of those three hospitals, so we actually can say that every child diagnosed with cancer in Indiana receives a “Bag of Fun.”
Wow, Tatum, you’re only 12 and a full-time student! What’s the most challenging thing about working on your own charity?
TATUM: Having a charity has many challenges! One is money. Every bag comes out to be around $350 and we give out 300+ a year. That adds up pretty quickly. We are so fortunate though to have so many people who give donations or who hold fundraisers and things like that. We also hold our own events to raise money. We also have received grants and I have received awards. Another problem is the workload. I help make the bags, deliver bags, I have to speak places, and do many other things. It’s hard work when you’re only 14 and you are starting high school. It’s also tons of work for my parents. It’s a second job to them! They almost work more for Tatum’s Bags of Fun than for their real jobs! It’s nothing we can’t handle though.
Is it hard to get the word out when fundraising?
TATUM: We hold many events and other people help us as well. Getting the word out about things hasn’t been all that hard either, fortunately. We use social media a lot to get the word out about our organization. We also have a good following and they help spread the word as well.
What has surprised you the most about starting and running a charity?
TATUM: What has surprised me the most is how far we have been able to spread. We have given bags to people in California all the way to South Carolina. We have an out of state waiting list now. I’m grateful that I am able to help all these kids, but then again it’s awful as well. Giving out a bag means another child has cancer. It’s a blessing and a curse all at once.
Totally understandable. What lies ahead for you and your Tatum’s Bags of Fun?
TATUM: My plan is to just keep Tatum’s Bags of Fun alive. There is no reason I to stop. With the help of all my friends and family, we can keep it going until cancer no longer exists. I plan to go to college and pursue a career and start a family, but I will also continue to run this foundation. I will hopefully take on larger roles in Tatum’s Bags of Fun as I get older.
That’s terrific! In closing, what advice do you have for other Like a Boss Girls who, like you, really want to make a difference in the world?
TATUM: I say anyone can make a difference. I mean, I started this when I was only eight years-old! Don’t listen to people who tell you that you can’t do something. As long as you put your mind to it, anything is possible. Just make sure you are passionate about what you are doing because being passionate about it gives you more strive to do it. Anyone and everyone have the power to make a difference!