Over the past 14 years, sophomore diplomacy and international relations major Tatum Haberman has watched her mother, Erin Haberman, battle cancerous brain tumors and seizures.
However, Tatum has found a way to help relieve her mother’s suffering.
At Alpha Phi’s 10th annual Red Dress Gala on Nov. 5, in front of 406 sisters, alumnae and relatives, Tatum presented her mother with the sorority’s Forget Me Not grant for $1,000.
According to Alpha Phi’s website, this grant is given to alumnae or collegiate sisters who face “severe and unforeseen” health issues or financial struggles.
As Tatum wheeled her to the front of the room, Erin choked back tears, thanking her daughter and her Alpha Phi sisters, as she is an alumnae herself.
Even though, as Tatum explained, a tumor on the sensory strip in Erin’s brain has left her in a wheelchair and unable to feel her left side, the words of her acceptance speech did not reflect bitterness.
“Life is so beautiful and we take it one step at a time,” Erin said.
Tatum explained that she applied for the Forget Me Not grant in September when, in addition to her cancer, her mother was diagnosed with Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria, a condition which causes constant welts, hives and itching. Tatum said she was motivated to relieve the financial burden of medical bills for her mother.
“I was happy that she could feel lifted up again because her sisters were there for her as well as her family,” Tatum said.
Tatum added that being in the same sorority as her mother was “the cherry on top” to their relationship. She went on to say they made each other paddles last year and Tatum even received her first Phi teddy bear from her mom.
Carmela Cirilli, Tatum’s big and a junior math major, said Tatum is someone who is patient, understanding and intelligent, whether being flexible when it comes to making plans with friends or seeking help in a subject area when needed.
Tatum acknowledged that growing up amid her mother’s health struggle was not easy and, through it all, she matured quickly, relying on her family for support.
Tatum’s sister, Kiley, is currently a senior studying wildlife biology at the University of Vermont. Also in Greek life, she is in the Lambda chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta. Kiley said that growing up with her mother’s conditions gave her anxiety.
“My entire life I was always afraid to leave my house because I thought, when I came back, she wouldn’t be there anymore,” Kiley said.
Despite her fears and those of her family’s, Tatum said that watching her mother fight these ailments has shaped her own world-view.
“I know that life is short and I see that in my mom,” Tatum said. “I want to get as much out of life as I can. So, in terms of campus, I try to get more involved in what I love and make each day worth it.”
Kiley described Tatum in a more figurative sense.
“If I had to describe Tatum in one sentence, I would have to say she is like a cactus, a cactus that has spent its life in the desert, constantly pushing to make herself grow,” Kiley said. “Even with everything trying to beat that cactus into the ground, the harsh winds, blazing sun and dry air, that cactus uses those surroundings to create the most magnificent of blossoms, spreading their pollen, bringing endless possibilities to the rest of the earth, fighting through that environment and creating something truly good for this world.”
Julie Trien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.