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Family of Boy With Cancer Bids on Hope

Sterling Mother Sets Up EBay Auction to Help Son

By Leef Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 5, 2005; Page B01

Tiffini Dingman-Grover said it began with a grilled cheese sandwich -- not just any sandwich, but one that bore a likeness of the Virgin Mary and brought in $28,000 at auction online. The final, galling straw, she said, was a "haunted" walking cane that last month fetched $65,000 on eBay.

"I thought if people are going to spend that kind of money for crap, then maybe they'd put it toward a good cause," said Dingman-Grover, who has spent two years facing the emotional and financial cataclysm of a critically ill son, David, 9.

Bryn Grover, left, and Tiffini Dingman-Grover enjoy a playful moment with their son David, who was diagnosed in 2003 with a fist-sized tumor that grew at the base of his skull. (Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

A fist-sized tumor that grew at the base of his skull and pressed against his throat was diagnosed in 2003. The child teetered on the edge of death so many times after starting chemotherapy and radiation that Dingman-Grover and her husband, Bryn Grover, were advised to buy a coffin.

Much of the $1 million cost of his care since then has been covered by insurance, but the myriad extra expenses -- the prescriptions, the equipment -- are not. So, sitting Sunday at her home computer, the Sterling mother of four crafted her own brand of eBay auction.

Subject line: "Help Kill My Son's Cancer Tumor."

"Today I am offering the opportunity for someone to help pay for the surgery my son will be getting to biopsy his tumor," her posting read. "I have never done this type of thing before, but I figured it could not hurt."

The entry has generated more than 1,600 hits, and last night bids had reached $200, mostly from friends who want to show the family how much they care: Many have pledged to send the amount of their bids to the family even if they don't win the auction.

Included on the Web page is a picture of David, a wan, smiling boy in a hospital gown, seated in a wheelchair. The auction describes his difficult battle with Rhabdomyosarcoma, the tumor he has nicknamed "Frank" and his improbably upbeat attitude.

EBay officials said it is not uncommon for the site's auctions to solicit funds for medical bills or help with tuition or other personal causes. EBay's policy, spokesman Chris Donlay said, is that the winning bidder must receive something tangible for the money. In this case, the winner of the Grovers' auction will receive a bumper sticker that reads: "Frank Must Die."

Donlay said last night that eBay had reviewed the Grovers' posting and determined that it violated parts of the policy. But the Grovers "are obviously doing a nice thing, and we'll figure out a way to help," Donlay said.

Dingman-Grover and her husband work, she part time, and their family has health insurance. What they lack is the cash to cover the many extra bills that accompany a catastrophic illness, and those expenses have come out of the family's house -- literally. More than a year ago, the couple began selling belongings on eBay to pay David's pharmacy bills, among other things, which sometimes ran about $700 a month.

"We were selling everything that wasn't nailed down," said Bryn Grover, who is a vice president of operations for a computer company based in Sterling.

The Grovers did not post the "tumor" auction to raise money to pay for lifesaving surgery or a miracle cure. What David needs, the Grovers said -- and their pediatric oncologist confirmed -- is a costly biopsy at a medical institute in Los Angeles.

The tumor has shrunk to the size of a peach pit, and doctors want to determine whether it is inactive -- malignant but not growing -- or benign. But it is hard to reach by medical instruments and surrounds David's carotid artery, the blood supply to the brain.

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