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Cancer survivor Cody Tatum is pushing to help other afflicted children

POSTED: May 6, 2012 1:08 p.m.

When he was 15, Cody Tatum was too young to legally drink or buy cigarettes, but the cells growing in his larynx weren’t focused on his age.

Those cells multiplying in his throat made his voice whispery even when he wasn’t trying to be discreet, and turned into a nagging cough that ultimately lead to a diagnosis of throat cancer.

"It was a total shock," said Tatum, now 21.

Whereas adult cancer cases are often strongly linked to lifestyle or environmental risk factors, juvenile cases are more often related to DNA changes in cells during development, according to the American Cancer Society.

Tatum’s tale has a happy ending: It’s been six years and he’s a proud childhood cancer survivor.

Now that he’s had some time to enjoy the light at the end of a dark tunnel, Tatum wants to reach back to help others on their journey.

"I want to start a support group for survivors, children going through it now and people who were affected by childhood cancer," said Tatum, a Flowery Branch resident.

"I’ve been wanting to do this for a while. I just feel like there aren’t enough groups out there for childhood cancer patients in our community.

"I know there is Relay for Life and things like that, but I want to hit more on the younger generation’s level."

Just like his particular type of cancer is linked more often to adults, Tatum says most support groups tend to cater to the older crowd, too. Although they’re sometimes called young adults, children aren’t little grown-ups. They’re kids and their concerns and worries may not exactly be understood by adults.

For instance, at the time of his diagnosis, Tatum was a linebacker for the Johnson High School football team. Yet his life-saving rounds of chemotherapy and radiation left him too weak to participate in the sport.

His frequent hospitalizations also put him behind in his coursework, so he wasn’t able to finish his sophomore year in high school alongside his classmates.

While the adults in his life were focused on obliterating the cancerous cells in his body, Tatum never took his eyes off regaining his spot on his team, and with his classmates.

He studied during the summer to be promoted with his junior class and hit the weight room as soon as he was cleared by his doctors.

Although his family and church members were always there for support, it was someone closer to his own age who he leaned on the most.

"Obviously I had my family for support, but the biggest person who kept my mind off of it was my best friend," Tatum said. "He really kept my mind off everything. In my opinion, he’s the one who pulled me through it all."

This is why his Young Fighters Childhood Cancer Support Group will be a group offering support for young people, by young people.

"I think it will be especially helpful to have support from someone who’s lived through it," said Tatum, who is organizing the group with another childhood cancer survivor.

"I think they’re better able to help than anyone else because they know what it’s like.

Their main point of contact is the group’s Facebook page, but they are in the process of planning in-person support meetings.

"There may have been groups like this when I was diagnosed, but they weren’t brought to my attention. Not like how I want to have this group out there," Tatum said.

"We’re going to have an event to kick it all off and eventually we’ll have fundraisers and things like that. But my main goal now is to provide help for people who are currently going through the battle.

"I’ve been where they are and I’m still dealing with it.

"Still to this day I’m influenced by the fact that I had cancer.

"It can be rough, but there’s hope."

 


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