Tatum, The Retinoblastoma Warrior

Story and photos provided by Scott L.
Article edited by Tika Siburt

Tatum is not only an Eye Cancer Hero but a Retinoblastoma Warrior.  She has gone through countless tests just to help her and her family figure out what was wrong with her eye.  Tatum’s motto is “Fight Like a Girl” and wow, has she ever! This is her story:


“On Wednesday, February 8, 2012 our bubbly, spunky, energetic 7-year-old little girl, Tatum, woke up with a sore eye after we had been treating her left eye for the past two days for what we thought was an eye infection. As the redness cleared, Tatum’s mom, Lisa, noticed blood in the center of Tatum’s eye. We didn’t know it then, but this would be the beginning of a long journey that not even the most experienced eye doctors could have imagined. We took Tatum to see the local eye doctor in Morris, MN. After the appointment, Tatum was sent to 5 different places to see a dozen various specialists to try to determine what was wrong with her eye.  As time continued her pressure was rising and Tatum’s cornea was getting very cloudy. From February to October we would make the 6 hour round trip to be seen once, sometimes twice a week, to control pressure in her eye and for testing to hopefully find answers. Over 9 months, Tatum had 3 A/C Taps that took fluid out of her eye to test for many things including cancer. Still, no answers. Tatum was put on multiple drops and medications to try to fix her developing glaucoma, which was making her pressure rise. On top of all this, there was a film developing on the inside of her cornea that was making it hard for her to see through. On October 23, 2012 Tatum’s pressure was still rising and her eye ultimately stopped responding to the medication. After a meeting with all of her doctors they sent us over to the MN Lions Children’s Eye Clinic to see a tumor specialist. On Friday, October 26, 2012 we had our first appointment with a pediatric eye and tumor specialist. This will be a day we never forget, the day that changed our lives! After a long day of MRIs, CT scans, and putting Tatum under anesthesia for an examination and photographs, the look on the doctor’s face when she came into the room told us everything! What she found and showed us was a large tumor on Tatum’s iris (the colored part of her eye). She said that we needed to get out to Philadelphia to Wills Eye Institute and see Dr. Carol Shields as soon as possible. We were delayed a week due to hurricane Sandy but made the trip the following week.

For a week they did every test they had and after a biopsy of the tumor we were told the ugly truth: libbesmeiertatum1305website003Retinoblastoma Eye Cancer! This was one of those moments in life that you hear about or see on television but always say or think, “I can’t imagine what they are going through,” but now sitting and hearing the doctor tell you that your sweet little girl has cancer would bring anyone to their knees. After many tears shed, the amazing Dr. Carol Shields of Wills Eye Institute and her team and the amazing Dr. Ann Leahey of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and her team gave us a plan that we would put in place to save Tatum’s eye and her life!!!  In the beginning it was so scary. All of the unknowns, so many questions, especially the biggest one: “Why?”

Tatum had an allergic reaction to Etopiside on the first round of the chemo medication and we had to switch. Through all of this, the people at Wills and CHOP comforted us and took the time to answer all of our questions. These doctors, with their awesome teams behind them, fought this evil monster saving our little girl’s sight and life! Tatum’s case is rare as she is only one of a handful of kids over the age of 5 to get retinoblastoma. Even more rare, her tumor is on her iris not in her retina like typical Retinoblastoma. This was why it was so difficult to find a diagnosis, as she did not fit any of the symptoms of this evil disease. We are currently done with plaque radiation and Tatum received her last round of 6 chemo treatments in May of 2013. We are happy to announce she is cancer free!!!! We still have a long road ahead of us but with our awesome doctors we know we will beat this evil monster! We have to go back to Philly every 3 months for at least the next 2 years to make sure the tumor does not return. With the support of our family, friends, doctors, and the help of God we will stay cancer free!”

Tatum’s aunt also set up a cancer fund for Tatum. If interested, you can visit it here.
To read more about Tatum’s story and make a tribute donation you can here.

Below is a video Tatum’s parents made of her journey fighting cancer: