Tatum Parker, 18, of Indianapolis, Indiana, a senior at North Central High School, has delivered more than 3,500 backpacks, each stuffed with about $350 worth of fun items, to every child in Indiana diagnosed with cancer since she and her family began the “Tatum Parker Project” in 2008. When Tatum was almost 6 years old, she learned she had Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare cancer, in her right femur. After undergoing surgery and a year of chemotherapy, Tatum thought she was cured. But a year later, her disease was back and she once again needed treatment. During her hospitalizations, it saddened her to see so many young patients far away from family and friends and without much to do. “I always felt so terrible that I would share my things,” Tatum said.
After she was well again, Tatum and her family wanted to give back to the pediatric cancer community. They established a website, got the word out around the state and started raising money to purchase fun items to fill backpacks. They then reached out to schools, businesses and clubs to host toy drives and fundraisers. Every month, Tatum gets a list of the age and gender of every child in Indiana who has been recently diagnosed with cancer. She and her family then go shopping for age-appropriate games, toys, craft kits and electronics, which are then packed into backpacks. She then delivers her “bags of fun” to hospitals for nurses to distribute. “My hope with every bag is that the child is able to laugh, smile and get more hope,” said Tatum. So far, the Tatum Parker Project, which also raises funds for pediatric cancer research, has donated well over $1 million worth of treats to brighten the lives of cancer patients in her state.