Cure Our Kids
Although being diagnosed with cancer as a teenager was a terrible trial for 20-year-old Tatum Holland, she says surviving it has made her a stronger, better person. "Even if I could go back and change it, I don't think I would," she says. "Cancer is such a huge part of my life. It has made me who I am today. It's my past, my present, and it is going to be my future."
At age 15, she had her sights on a trip to Washington, D.C., where she was going to compete in National History Day; and cancer was the farthest thing from her mind. She had an irritating pain in her knee for a few months, which everyone attributed to growing pains. While she was loading her car for her trip, she slammed her knee against the door. At this point, she says the pain in her knee went from "nagging" to "excrutiating."
After canceling her trip and many doctor appointments and tests, the dreaded diagnosis came — cancer. Tatum had osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that most commonly affects young people, that had attacked her right tibia and metastasized to her lungs. She started chemotherapy right away in hopes to shrink the tumor before the doctors could remove it.
|"Even if I could go back and change it, I don't think I would," she said.|
In September 2003, after three months of chemotherapy, Tatum had limb-salvage surgery that replaced her knee with a plastic prostheses and her tibia with a titanium rod. The tumor had not shrunk like they hoped, so she had to begin a high-dose chemo- therapy regime that lasted eight months.
A year later, she went back to school to resume her life. Then in October, she says "darkness knocked on my door again." At her six-month, follow-up scan, the test showed dark spots on her lungs. Admitted to the hospital, the doctors wanted to start another round of chemotherapy; but her kidney function was so poor, it wasn't an option. Amazingly, the lung biopsy proved the dark spots were benign, "dead" tumors.
|...she became an ambassador for ACS and headed to their "Celebration on the Hill" in Washington, D.C."|
When cancer affects a child, the entire family goes through the stress of treatment. Tatum has a large family and a good support network. Her mom, Janet Sanders, played an important role in Tatum's recovery.
"My mom is my biggest advocate," she says. The two even got matching "Hope" tattoos to remember to always stay optimistic. Tatum also added a butterfly to her tattoo – the symbol of childhood cancer.
Janet says Tatum is a true "warrior." "She had to grow up very quickly and face things that no child should ever have to face at that age," Janet says. "I see her with a great future and really making a difference in cancer research."
Tatum finished school and decided to use her experience to make a difference in the lives of other children with cancer. At the 2005 American Cancer Society's (ACS) Relay for Life, she started her team: "Jaws: Take a Bite Out of Cancer."
A year later, she became an ambassador for ACS and headed to their "Celebration on the Hill" in Washington, D.C. This event celebrated cancer survivorship and empowered cancer advocates to ask legislators for help to fight the disease. Along with Senator Dianne Feinstein, Tatum was the only cancer survivor asked to speak at the California Delegation Breakfast, and her words were inspiring.
"When Tatum spoke, you could have heard an ant crawl across the carpet, because the people were so quiet while they listened to her," says Cherie Shoemake, ACS Kern County Office Community Services Director.
Tatum continues to speak at various ACS events and uses her story to raise funds for pediatric cancer. She started the foundation, Cure Our Kids, which holds an annual Lamb and Chicken Feed and Auction. Because one in 330 children will develop cancer by age 20, Tatum wants her foundation to increase research and awareness through private funding and help to create a cancer-free tomorrow. Her goal is to make her foun-dation national and have the gold and purple ribbon for childhood cancer as visible as the pink ribbon for breast cancer.
Currently a junior at Sacramento State, Tatum is majoring in political science and wants to work for a non-profit agency doing advocacy. She also works as a press secretary for the Associated Students, Inc. For more information on childhood cancers, please visit www.cancer.org.