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Second chances: Johnson player overcomes cancer

Cody Tatum making the most of life, football, dreams

POSTED: October 30, 2007 5:05 a.m.
OAKWOOD Cody Tatum appreciates his life now more than ever before.

He never takes for granted the most simple thing and he counts his blessings when he wakes up in the morning.

He makes the most of the opportunity to share the good times in his life with family and friends and finds comfort in the fact that he is able attend school with his classmates while keeping his dreams set squarely on enlisting in the Marine Corps after graduation from Johnson High in the spring.

As one of the Knights’ leaders on the football field, his joy is apparent. He bursts out of the field house to the practice field each afternoon looking forward to the camaraderie of his teammates and coaches.

"I just always want to have a positive outlook," Tatum said. "My perspective on life has definitely changed."

These are just some of the things that have Tatum excited about life after they were almost taken away.

Tatum is a throat cancer survivor.

Less than two years ago, he was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer for a person his age. According to Tatum, he was only the 16th diagnosed case in the country at such an early age.

Fortunately, doctors diagnosed Tatum’s cancer in its earliest stages and gave him a positive outlook for returning to a normal life.

"I was numb at first when I found out I had cancer, but I knew I would survive," Tatum said.

At the age of 15, Tatum wasn’t a smoker or a drinker, nor did he partake in any other risky behaviors. He first showed signs of cancer with an extreme burning sensation in his throat every time he tried to drink.

Despite his unfortunate circumstances, Tatum never lost sight of his goals in life. The Knights linebacker knew he would eventually return to the football field, even when he was bedridden at Atlanta’s Egleston Children’s Hospital in Atlanta and was fed through a tube.

With the support of friends and family, he never questioned he would be healthy once again. And thanks to top-notch medical care, a close circle of friends and family, and a positive outlook, he is now completely cancer-free.

"I really never thought he would be able to play football again when he was sick in the hospital," said his friend Ben Reese, a senior defensive lineman for the Knights. "He’s an inspiration to everyone around him."

"It’s really awesome what he’s been able to do, because he was in very serious condition" Johnson coach Paul Friel said.

Tatum is currently awaiting word from the Marines whether he will be accepted. According to Tatum, it is policy to have been cancer-free for five years before acceptance into the Marine Corps. If needed, he plans on applying for a waiver to try to clear that hurdle.

Tatum’s goal in the Marines is to pursue reconnaissance and special operations.

Once diagnosed with cancer as a sophomore, he was physically unable to attend school and opted to do home school for a four-month period.

It was a long road to gaining a clean bill of health. The cancer took a toll on Tatum’s body. He endured radiation treatment twice each day, five days a week. His father and uncle rotated trips to take him to the hospital for his radiation.

He also had chemotherapy once every week.

Eventually his body began to break down. This once healthy teenager eventually weighed 112 pounds. Friends began to question if their friend would ever be the same again. The usually happy, smiling Tatum wasn’t himself anymore. He eventually suffered a staph infection, and was equipped with a tracheotomy to secure an airway.

"Everyone was praying for him, but he kept getting worse and worse," Reese said. "Seeing him really made me sick."

Finally Tatum’s determination to survive won out. He returned to school at the beginning of last year. One of his biggest victories was getting cleared to dress out with the football team, which meant he was one step closer to playing again.

Tatum devoted himself to becoming physically strong enough to play football after losing so much weight. One sign of his progress showed through with the fact he improved his squat max from 135 pounds to more than 300 pounds by the end of fall semester.

"I’m actually in better shape now than before I got cancer," Tatum said. "I’ve been eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches everyday."

As a junior, Tatum was rewarded for his hard work with a spot on the junior varsity team and worked his way up to gain a spot on the varsity kickoff team late in the season.

Now Tatum wants to finish out his senior season on a bright note with a shot at playing in the playoffs. That hinges greatly on the Knights’ game against Gainesville tonight at Billy Ellis Memorial.

"I really enjoy the camaraderie playing football," Tatum said. "That’s something I’ll always remember."



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