Tatum Schulte’s life inspires creation of Tatum Tough Foundation


A portrait of Tatum with Jesus hangs in the Schulte home. The art was drawn by Sherry Phelps for the Schulte family.

A little girl sits on the floor, surrounded by colorful toys and smiling dolls. Her father takes a long walk up the stairs to find her. The last time he carried sad news up these stairs, his daughter had to lose her hair. This time, she will lose her leg. After he delivers the news, he expects crying, pouting or anger, but she seems oddly neutral despite having every right to respond negatively. Her face turns to his, and she responds, “Okay, whatever we have to do,” just like her response to the news of her hair loss. Whatever it took, she was not afraid. She was positive. She was strong. She was tough.

We want to give to people who exemplify what it means to be ‘Tatum Tough.’

— Travis Schulte

Nine-year-old Tatum Lee Schulte died Thursday, Oct. 30, 2017 after her almost two-year battle with osteosarcoma.  Through her constant display of strength and positive attitude, she created and left a legacy of being “Tatum Tough” in every situation. Her parents, Travis and Shawna Schulte, began the Tatum Tough Foundation to keep her spirit alive and to reward others for being tough like Tatum. Community members can make donations through the Tatum Tough Foundation account at any First United Bank

“We want to give to people who exemplify what it means to be ‘Tatum Tough,’” Travis said. “Whatever it is doesn’t matter. If any facet of their life has been tough and they exemplify what we think it means to be ‘Tatum Tough,’ what Tatum taught us being tough was, we want to be able to help that individual out.”

Travis Schulte coaches boys basketball at Canyon High, and the community rallied around the Schultes during Tatum’s years of fighting cancer. Because the community has already donated so much, Travis said they are not currently worried about collecting funds in the early stages of the foundation.

“We’re prepared. If something came up tomorrow, we could get to it and immediately start,” Travis said. “It’s really going to hit the ground when we find that first ‘Tatum Tough’ thing. We already have a couple ideas on that.”

Travis said they do not want the foundation to have boundaries or borders.

We are going to them and helping, not making them come ask or apply for this and that.

— Shawna Schulte

“We want to find people who are doing really cool things and get involved with them,” Travis said. “A lot of them are in situations like us where we’ve lost Tatum. We want to reward them for being ‘Tatum Tough.’ Those are the people we want to keep the spirit of ‘Tatum Tough,’ alive and well.”

Shawna said they do not want to make people take time to ask, fill out forms or check for qualification to receive help.

“When you are going through that process, you don’t have time to fill anything out, much less even just go and ask,” Shawna said. “Going through that with Tatum, we always thought, ‘There’s someone who needs it more than we do.’ We are going to them and helping, not making them come ask or apply for this and that.”

Travis said they want to bless other families the way the community blessed them.

“We want to be able to do that same type of blessing with no strings attached,” Travis said. “No ‘fill out this form.’ Just ‘here it is. You’re ‘Tatum Tough.’ We are proud of you, and you keep being ‘Tatum Tough.’’”

I think kids, when they’re going through something like this this, are drawn to people that are now like them.

— Shawna Schulte

Shawna said Tatum would have been excited to help people the way the Tatum Tough Foundation will.

“One way that we’ll know if it would have Tatum’s stamp of approval is that we got to watch her with the bracelets,” Travis said. “Shawna always carried bracelets in her purse, but you had to be special for Tatum to say, ‘Mom, get me a bracelet’ and for Tatum to give it to somebody. It was interesting, the different people she would choose to give the bracelet to.”

Tatum’s spirit inspired the community, but her story spread far beyond Canyon.

“This mother reached out to me, and they lived in Houston,” Shawna said. “They had heard Tatum’s story. Her daughter had Ewing’s sarcoma in her heel bone and was going to have an amputation. They met up with us in Houston. They sat there, and it was like they had known each other forever.”

Shawna said Tatum was drawn to other people who had cancer or prosthetic limbs.

“I think kids, when they’re going through something like this, are drawn to people that are now like them,” Shawna said. “One time we were driving down the street, and she said, ‘I’m going to do a Bible study when we’re all done, and the only people who can be invited are people with prosthetics and people who have had cancer.’”

Throughout Tatum’s illness, Travis and Shawna said they saw miracles all through the journey.

God’s fingerprints have been all over our story, and that’s a pretty cool thing.

— Travis Schulte

“It’s just unbelievable,” Travis said. “We can go as small as her homebound teacher her first year to her teacher last year at Crestview, who was Shawna’s teacher at Dimmitt when Shawna grew up. There are so many things put in place. God’s fingerprints have been all over our story, and that’s a pretty cool thing.”

Travis said he and Shawna could not believe Tatum’s surgeon, the number one leading surgeon in children’s sarcoma bone cancer, could always remember her out of all his patients.

“He probably sees 80 to 100 patients a day,” Travis said. “When he gets to you, there’s no way he can remember. Shawna sent him an email letting him know Tatum had passed away, and, within five minutes, her phone’s ringing, and it’s him. He’s just devastated. He always called Tatum his snowflake, because she was just a little bit different than everybody else.”

Travis said Tatum enjoyed reminding people, especially her sister Shaylin, how tough she was.

“She was never afraid,” Shawna said. “Tatum was ‘fly by the seat of your pants,’ and do everything opposite of Sissy. This is what got her through.”

Spending several weeks in home hospice care gave her family a great deal of time with Tatum. Toward the end, Tatum had not spoken for two weeks, but started talking in her sleep 10 minutes before she died.

I never imagined watching somebody die would be beautiful.

— Travis Schulte

She is having a conversation, and, this is just my belief, but it is definitely a two-sided conversation,” Travis said. “She is listening, she is responding, she is talking, and she is arguing. I’m very certain that she was having a conversation with Jesus. I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek, and it stopped instantly. She began a stranger breathing pattern. I kissed her on the cheek and said ‘Tatum, it’s okay. You can go.’ She took one more breath, and that was the end. It was beautiful. I never imagined watching somebody die would be beautiful.”

Shawna said in order to keep the “Tatum Tough” spirit alive, people cannot stop talking about her.

“People are afraid to talk about it in front of you, but you have to keep talking about her, especially the kids,” Shawna said. “Someone colored a picture of Tatum. She’s got wings now, and she’s flying in the sky. We have to continue talking about Tatum so these kids will, too. They will be better at living out what Tatum did than we are.”

Travis said he is not worried about Tatum’s life being forgotten.

“What we don’t want to be forgotten is the ‘Tatum Tough’ attitude and the ‘Tatum Tough’ spirit and how much it changed the community,” Travis said. “It made me a completely different person than I was two years ago. Shawna will tell you the same thing. Anybody who’s been around us will tell you that. That’s why we’re trying to be the ‘Tatum Tough’ attitude and ‘Tatum Tough’ way of life.”

What we don’t want to be forgotten is the ‘Tatum Tough’ attitude and the ‘Tatum Tough’ spirit.

— Travis Schulte

Travis said each life Tatum’s story touched is a member of Team Tatum, and those will be the ones to decide who will receive support from the Tatum Tough Foundation. He asked community members who hear of something “Tatum Tough” to contact the Schulte family.

“We’re not going to have a board of directors,” Travis said. “It’s Team Tatum who are the people that decide what’s ‘Tatum Tough’ and what we need to pursue. We have so many people in Team Tatum, so it’s a group effort to let us know. That’s going to be the Tatum Tough Foundation.”

Travis said although the foundation’s goals are broad, they don’t want to put stipulations on what could be considered “Tatum Tough.”

“The way we are with our faith, it could be any situation where we just see someone who is really shining God’s light in their situation,” Travis said. “That’s ‘Tatum Tough.’ That’s where we want to go to those people and say, ‘keep it up.’ We feel like Tatum moved mountains with her faith and her spirit, and when we see other people doing that we want to encourage to go do more, because you can change the world.”