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Virginia Boy's Biopsy Finds No Cancer
EBay Auction Helped Defray Medical Costs
By Leef Smith, Washington Post

After nearly two yean of debilitating chemotherapy and radiation treatments that caused his blond hair to fall out, damaged his eyesight and stripped dozens of pounds from his frame, 9-year-old David Dingman-Grover sat yesterday sat before a sea of television cameras to utter the words his family had so longed to hear.

"Frank is now dead and gone," a beaming David said. "Never to return."

David nicknamed the fist-sized tumor at the base of his skull "Frank" - for Frankenstein's monster - shortly after being diagnosed in May 2003 with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma. His story gained a national following in December when David's family went on eBay to auction off a "Frank Must Die" bumper sticker in an effort to raise money for his care.

Yesterday was the payoff for David and his family, with a public pronouncement by Los Angeles surgeon Hrayr Shahinian, who performed a biopsy on David's tumor Feb. 2 and held a news conference at the Willard InterContinental Washington to announce the results.

"I'm delighted to say there are no active cancer cells," said Shahinian, a smiling David seated by his side. "There is no evidence of Frank whatsoever."

The results mean that David can stop chemotherapy and, when his depleted muscles and immune system are stronger, return to class at Sully Elementary School in Sterling. That had been his parents' hope when they turned to eBay to help pay for the biopsy.

Chemotherapy and radiation had shrunk it to the size of a walnut, but doctors needed to get to the tumor - located in a very hard-to-reach area - to determine whether it still was cancerous and whether additional treatment was needed.

Doctors originally consulted by the family said Davidewould need a traditional craniotomy, a tricky surgical procedure that would require peeling off part of David's face and removing a large section of skull. They were told that if David survived the procedure, he might be in the hospital recovering for as long as 30 days. The tumor, most doctors agreed, was inoperable.

David's family searched for other options, eventually locating Shahinian at the Skull Base Institute, with his less-invasive endoscopic approach to skull surgery. But they were having difficulty coming up with their share of the $100,000 operation. That's when David's mother, Tiffini, came up with the idea for a charitable auction.

The family's eBay gambit captured the public's attention, and the auction received more than 160,000 hits. Their effort generated a winning bid of $10,700 and more than $40,000 in private donations. In the spirit of the effort, Shahinian also donated his services. The procedure, during which he removed the remnants of the tumor and scar tissue, lasted 90 minutes, and David was in the hospital for a day.

Tiffini Dingman-Grover, 32, said news of Frank's eradication will mean a new beginning for David. "We've been battling this for two years," she said tearfully. "I'm just so grateful I have the chance to be David's mother."

Yesterday, Shahinian presented David with a cake in anticipation of his 10th birthday March 1. Shahinian said doctors will follow David's health closely for years because there is no guarantee that the cancer will not come back, despite the boy's optimism.

Asked if he was ever frightened, David was resolute, saying "I knew the Lord would guide me through this." The day after the procedure, he gave Shahinian a pebble inscribed with the word "courage," a token the doctor keeps in his wallet.

Radiation has left David's hair patchy and his skin wan, but he came to the news conference with a message of hope and a T-shirt reading: "Cancer is not who I am."

Spreading the flaps of his coat to show off the shirt, David explained. "Cancer can never be who you are," he said softly. "It can never take your life over."