Tatum Bowerman-Hummel fought valiantly against her breast cancer, but her husband believes she lost footing within a faulty health care system.
Since her death last August at age 37, he’s determined to help the system improve.
On Saturday, May 13, Chris Hummel and his non-profit organization, Tatum Untied, will hold the inaugural “Forgiveness Fire” benefit from 4 p.m. to midnight at the Campfire Event Center, 11900 Jeffers Road, in Grand Rapids, Ohio. He’s hopeful the night of food, drink, and entertainment will raise enough money to begin his quest for improved cancer treatment.
But Hummel also wants to spread Tatum’s message that women need to take charge of their lives and their bodies.
“A big part of what she advocated for was women advocating for themselves,” the Delta resident said. “She pushed the issue that she knew her body, and she knew it was something serious. And it was important for her to get that message out.”
“Forgiveness Fire” will feature a buffet style dinner, beer and wine, music by Streetwize, giveaways, live and silent auctions, door prizes, and corn hole. It’s a 21 and older event, and all ticket purchases come with a 30-day membership to Anytime Fitness.
A small but unique part of the so-named “Forgiveness Fire” fundraiser will be guests’ option to write letters to people who have wronged them in life, then toss the letters in a fire as a symbolic act of forgiving and letting go. The idea came, in part, from Tatum, who helped her husband plan the benefit.
“Tatum had demons in her life that haunted her. She had situations in her life that she needed to forgive and move on,” Hummel said.
Tatum was a psychologist for Swanton Local Schools in 2014 when she found a lump in her breast while breast-feeding the couple’s youngest child, Oliver. She scheduled an immediate biopsy after questionable results from an ultrasound, and found out within three days of her initial discovery that she had breast cancer.
And it was triple-negative breast cancer, which ruled out some treatment options. Tatum underwent a bilateral mastectomy and 16 weeks of chemotherapy. She followed that up with reconstructive surgery, and by January of 2015 the Hummels were hopeful the disease had run its course.
“(Doctors) used a term, ‘no evidence of disease.’ It’s not the same as not having cancer,” Hummel said. It was an acknowledgement that no cancer was present where it had originated, but no scans of other parts of Tatum’s body were performed.
On Sept. 1 of that year, the Hummels were assured by an oncologist there was no need for worry. Two weeks later, Tatum found a lump in her neck. Within another week they learned the cancer had metastasized to her lymph nodes.
After surgery to remove the cancerous areas, Tatum underwent another 12 weeks of chemotherapy, then endured four weeks of both chemotherapy and 28 radiation treatments. The couple then was told the cancer had metastasized to her liver.
“She just went through so much,” Hummel said. “It was at that point we had to decide whether to continue with chemo, do nothing or try with clinical trials.”
An immuno-therapy clinical trial at a Grand Rapids, Mich., facility used drugs to train Tatum’s immune system to attack the cancer. It proved ineffective, and she was dismissed from the trial after six weeks, even as the cancer spread throughout her liver.
Tatum didn’t qualify for another clinical trial being held in Ann Arbor, but was accepted for one at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York City that used a different immuno-therapy drug. The therapy showed signs of working, but at that time the cancer had spread to her bones and was putting too much stress on her liver.
Tatum Bowerman-Hummel returned home for hospice care. She died 11 days later, on Aug. 20, 2016. She left behind Chris, three-year-old Oliver, seven-year-old Kathryn, and nine-year-old Michaela.
Having watched his wife search earnestly for a qualifying clinical trial while time worked against her, Hummel is now determined to help repair a health care system he believes is broken.
“If you can imagine that you only have months to live…it’s just incredibly frustrating,” he said. “It’s just ridiculous, the way that it works, or doesn’t work, and it really needs to be fixed. The medical community has been fighting this disease for decades and still have no cure. And I believe that’s because we’re not approaching it the right way. This is a story I need to tell.”
Among several programs he’s developing, two are most urgent for him:
• Chemo Buddies. The brainchild of Tatum, it would utilize trained volunteers to accompany women to cancer treatments when working hours prevent their husbands from attending. The volunteers would act as both moral support and advocates.
• Trial Driven Participant Search. Qualified trial administrators search a database of patients to find those best suited for particular clinical trials and those who would best benefit.
Hummel resigned from his position as a sales engineer to spend the next year solidifying his plans. He is hopeful proceeds from the first “Forgiveness Fire” event, which he plans to hold annually, and from other fundraisers through the year, will provide the seed money needed.
“Tatum and I talked about this. We planned on doing this together – to try to fix this system together,” he said.
Hummel is asking for sponsorship from other non-profits, the medical community, and businesses. “I want this to be a public undertaking,” he said. “What I don’t want is for it to be managed by a system that has not provided a cure for decades with millions of dollars invested. I want this to be a public tool that can be used by everybody.”
As part of Tatum’s drive to educate and advocate for others, she had begun writing a book, “Tatum Untied,” from which Hummel’s non-profit took its name. She had completed about 15,000 words before she died. Hummel plans to finish it for her.
“It was supposed to share the lessons she learned during her journey, lessons about faith and living life and forgiveness,” he said. “To really live life now by letting go of things in the past. A lot of people will benefit from it. And what we learned is, she is an incredible author.”
Tickets for “Forgiveness Fire” are $35 each, $60 per couple. They can be purchased at tatumuntied.org, at The State Bank locations in Delta, Wauseon, and Perrysburg or at the door. Donations can be delivered or mailed to: Tatum Untied, c/o The State Bank, 312 W. Main St., Delta, Ohio 43515.
Hummel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.