Raising cancer patients' spirits ... with a pink fire truck and cop car

The Fresno BeeNovember 9, 2013 

As the pink fire truck and cop car rounded the corner next to her Fresno apartment, Janis Tatum, 55, was all smiles.

And as the Fresno firemen, Clovis policemen and California Highway Patrol officers surrounded her Saturday morning, each delivering a pink rose, she beamed as her family stood nearby and chuckled.

"That was the best surprise ever," a bubbly Tatum told the gathering of about 35 people. "All of my friends know I love firemen."

Saturday was a good day for Tatum, an administrative assistant who's worked for Clovis Unified School District for 30 years and who was diagnosed with breast cancer in March.

Tatum's surprise was courtesy of the Guardians of the Ribbon, Fresno County Pink Heals Chapter, a nonprofit that has made a couple dozen of these special appearances for people fighting cancer.

The Fresno chapter, established two years ago, fell in love with Tatum and her "zest for life" last month as they drove her around in their pink fire truck -- donated by the Clovis Fire Department -- as grand marshal of Clovis North's homecoming parade.

That zest was dimmed but not extinguished on the day that Tatum, alone in the doctor's office, learned she has cancer.

"Going from being all alone, and feeling all alone, to knowing there's so many people out there that support you and care about you and want to help you -- to me, that's really what I feel today," said the single mom of five.

Jody Jo, a local radio host for KISS Country (FM 93.7) who is also battling breast cancer and is an inspiration for Tatum, attended the surprise. Clovis firefighters, who couldn't make it Saturday, plan to treat her to a Thanksgiving feast.

Along with the roses, the guardians gave Tatum a $200 gift card to Save Mart Supermarkets.

The guardians' firetruck is named "Alex" in honor of a 16-year-old Clovis girl who died of leukemia eight years ago.

Alex's father, Michael Rodriguez, said when people see the truck, for a little while at least, "it almost takes away the fact that they have cancer ... and that's important."

The truck is covered with hundreds of messages and signatures. Tatum's addition: Save the hooters!

"That's been my slogan from day one," she said with a laugh.

"If I wasn't a school secretary, I think I'd be a stand-up comic ... I really try to find humor in it (cancer). And I know it's not funny, it's tragic and it's sad and people lose their life every day because of breast cancer, but I found that when I can find those moments of humor, it gets me through that day," Tatum said, smiling through tears.

"And that's all I really need to do, just get through this day, and tomorrow is another day."

Fresno Battalion Chief Chuck Tobias said his firemen love celebrating "heroes" like Tatum who are overcoming hardships, especially because they see people "on the worst day of their life" on a regular basis when responding to emergency calls.

Tatum has finished six rounds of chemotherapy and is now doing radiation treatments every day through Dec. 17.

"I knew right from the beginning that I was going to beat this thing, that it wouldn't be easy, but I was going to beat it, because I really feel that I have a lot of life left in me and lots of things to do with my life," she said. "So, it's just great to know we really are not alone. We're not alone in this."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, cgeorge@fresnobee.com or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.

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