As a creative professional I’m in a position to help clients tell their stories. Here’s one worth telling. It’s one that has even caught the attention of The Fault in Our Stars author John Green, Nascar driver Jeff Gordon, and sports personality Dick Vitale.
Jayson Parker shaves his head. Plenty of men his age do that when they fully accept their male pattern baldness, and take their self-grooming cues from Woody Harrelson or Vin Diesel. But Jayson actually has a full head of hair with perfectly working follicles (oh, the humanity). He keeps his head shaved because he empathizes with kids suffering from cancer. He manages a non-profit called Tatum’s Bags of Fun. After Jayson contacted me inquiring about creative services, I researched his organization; their backstory completely destroyed me.
Jayson’s daughter, Tatum, was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer at the age of 5. And her parents underwent the grueling experience of watching their little girl face chemotherapy, radiation and three surgeries. Fortunately, Tatum laughed her way through it, and made it to the other side like a champ. Eighteen months later, cancerous masses appeared in Tatum’s right lung, and she had to face the entire experience all over again.
It was during this second treatment that Tatum received a backpack from a charity in Colorado. The backpack was full of games, crafts and activities; things a child needs to get through the difficult days receiving treatment in a cancer ward. Many parents of pediatric cancer patients don’t necessarily live near the hospital where their children are staying. They may live several counties over, and still have to go to work and tend to their other children. This means that nurses and physicians have to play the role of parents for children going through treatment in the ward. That bag made a profound difference for Tatum.
The gesture touched the Parkers so much so that since Tatum has been cancer-free they’ve devoted all of their spare time to giving “bags of fun” to each of the 350 children diagnosed with cancer annually in the state of Indiana. And they don’t mess around, either. These bags include Leap Pads for the younger kids and an iPod Touch for teenagers. It costs $350 to provide just one bag, and it blows kids’ minds.
Tatum, now 14 years old, personally delivers many of these bags herself, bringing “smiles and hope.” The smiles comes from what’s inside of the bag, and the hope comes from this remarkable girl delivering it who beat cancer, not once, but twice. These kids need Tatum, who can empathize with them and cheer them on more than anyone else in the entire world.
I’ve had the privilege of helping tell the story of Tatum’s Bags of Fun with design and print. Because of this I commonly rummage through the hundreds of images of children receiving bags. I can’t begin to describe to you the looks on their faces. And looking at the expressions on their parents’ faces, it’s obvious that their child likely hadn’t smiled in months.
But in contrast to those smiles there is still sorrow. We’ve lost many children along the way. Jayson has received countless letters from mourning parents, thanking him for bringing just one more smile or one more moment of joy to their child’s final days. There have been several occasions that my eyes have welled up with tears in a coffee shop while working on a Tatum’s project. There have even been times I’ve put off working on a Tatum’s project because I tend to get emotionally overwhelmed by what I see. But I push through it.
Jayson Parker and Tatum’s Bags of Fun are doing something really special, and they’re do it very well. I’ve posted a video of Tatum below, explaining more about this special organization. Please visit www.tatumsbagsoffun.org and consider bringing smiles and hope to these children and their families.
Photo courtesy of Tatum’s Bags of Fun