Archived Story

EL community rallies to help 7-year-old eye cancer patient

Published 11:05am Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Last February, seven year-old Tatum Libbesmeier woke up with a sore eye. This would start a series of treatments and visits to physicians from Morris and St. Cloud to Minneapolis and Pennsylvania. After many difficult exploratory exams, Tatum was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eye that is extremely rare, especially in young people.

While Tatum continues to be treated in Minneapolis, she is also undergoing treatment, including chemotherapy at Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia, PA, one of the world’s premier eye care facilities.

The Elbow Lake Lions Club was instrumental in getting fundraising started last fall, raising $2,682 in Elbow Lake, and $5,282 overall from area Lions Clubs.

“Lions have a focus on vision issues,” said Elbow Lake Lions Club president Al Schoenbauer. “We also want to help people in need in the community.”

Unfortunately, the money raised was exhausted by medical costs and travel expenses. With another trip to Philadelphia coming up on February 4, bills will again mount for this young family of four from Herman.

“It takes about $3,000 each trip for the three of us to go to Philadelphia, and that doesn’t include medical costs,” said Scott Libbesmeier, Tatum’s dad. “If she improves, it will take a minimum of six trips over the next three years to clear her.”

While Tatum’s doctor is “hopeful,” the tumor is still present in her eye. The appointment coming up next week is a big one. The family will find out if the tumor shrinking or not.

“Worst-case scenario, they would remove her left eye to decrease the chance of cancer spreading to her brain,” said Lisa Libbesmeier, Tatum’s mom.

The family decided last December to keep Tatum out of school since she is too susceptible to infection. Her mom, Lisa, has had to quit her job to stay home with Tatum, while Scott continues to work full-time.

“Paul at Lakeside Seeds has been amazing, giving me time off whenever I need it,” said Scott, adding that in addition to what Tatum is going through, he worries about Tatum’s big sister. “Macee is 10, and it’s hard on her when Tatum gets all the attention, even if it is negative attention. We try and get Macee out to activities.”

While Tatum’s parents say she is a trooper — never complaining about long doctor visits, blood draws, other tests and medicine — the most difficult thing for the little girl is not being able to do anything like going outside, ice skating, seeing her friends at school, or just being a kid like her big sister.

“It stinks — cancer is horrible, but we have to stay positive,” said Lisa.

Since the case is difficult and rare, John Hopkins University requested and received all of the case notes to study.

“This was God’s plan to give this evil monster to such a tough little girl so no other kids have to go through such a long process,” said Lisa.

“It’s difficult to comprehend until this happens to your own child,” said Scott. “We have good days and bad days.”

“We have all these people around us, great support from my family nearby, and my husband is a rock,” said Lisa. “We are just taking it day by day.”

You can follow Tatum’s journey on, a web site for people undergoing a health crisis, by typing in tatumlibbesmeier in the box under “visit someone.”

Please consider making a contribution to the Tatum Libbesmeier Medical Fund, c/o Eagle Bank, PO Box 955, Elbow Lake, MN 56531, or in person at Eagle Bank in Elbow Lake. On-line contributions can also be made at

  • tbaarr

    to reduce her med bills..her family should look into an OBAMACARE PROGRAM….LOOK UP… was designed exactly for these kind of issues where insurance issues lead to heavy out of pocket expenses for the sick person…..these people should not have to go bankrupt to save their daughters life and maybe her eyesight

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