Angela Bieber was new to the Bowdle area when her infant son was diagnosed with cancer 14 years ago, and she was overwhelmed by the support of strangers.
People in Bowdle and surrounding communities offered donations and prayers and had fundraisers, Bieber said.
"That was probably the most uplifting part," she said.
Now, the Biebers want to give back. The family is having an auction at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at 3098 Fourth Ave. in Bowdle. At least 50 percent of proceeds will go to St. Paul's Lutheran Church and St. Augustine Catholic Church in Bowdle — the churches that had the original fundraisers in 1997 for Jacob Bieber, who suffered from bilateral retinoblastoma.
Jacob was 6 months old when he was diagnosed with the rare, life-threatening cancer in the eyes. At the time, he went into Avera St. Luke's Hospital in Aberdeen for a flu-type illness. His mother said this ended up being a blessing of sorts — otherwise, doctors might not have caught the cancer in time and it could have spread. This type of cancer can't be seen in the early stages unless doctors perform an ultrasound on the eyes, she said. But it became visible because the fluid from the IVs fed the tumor in his left eye, causing his pupil to almost disappear, she said.
Doctors immediately sent the family to the Fairview University Hospital in Minneapolis. The tumor took up 90 percent of Jacob's left eye, so doctors had to remove his left eye, Bieber said. Doctors discovered two more tumors in the corners of his right eye, but were able to treat these with chemotherapy and a freezing procedure.
Even though he was a baby, his family could see the effects of chemotherapy, Bieber said. Any fever or cold would send him to the hospital. She can remember hoping her son would make it to 1 year old. He'll be 15 in October.
Though he's been cancer-free since 1997, he has developmental and physical delays due to a chromosomal deformity that is also related to his cancer, Bieber said. He does not talk and has the mentality of a 2- to 5-year-old, she said. But he can dress and feed himself, and he can communicate — it's just not through words. If he wants a glass of water, he'll hand someone a cup, Bieber said.
Jacob has a prosthetic eye, and his peripheral vision is limited in the other eye because the tumors' location created a black spot on the retina, she said. But he does have vision.
"He can see M&Ms in a whole (different) room," his mom said, laughing.
Jacob had physical, occupational and speech therapy in the past, and he attended the South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired for about seven years. A couple of years ago, though, he started having seizures because of his condition, and the family brought him home. His mom is now home-schooling him on their farm near Bowdle.
Today, Jacob is a happy child who will smile and take anyone's hand, his mom said.
"He's very loving," she said.
He loves the animals that live on the family's farm. He likes Disney characters, to swing, and all things digital — computers, TVs. He likes to go swimming.
Now that Jacob is a teen, though, doctors need to watch for bone cancer, Bieber said. When he hits his 30s, doctors need to watch for lung cancer, she said.
But Bieber said that gives her hope that other people with this type of cancer have made it that long.
With the auction, she wants to provide hope for another struggling family. Several other people have donated items for the auction. The auctioneer service, Ulmer Auction, is also donating its services. The Biebers hope to continue this auction yearly, with different beneficiaries.
Besides funds for the churches, the remaining proceeds will be used for toys for the Bowdle Hospital, Bieber said. On the toys will say “Because of Jacob,” with a hopeful prayer attached.
Bieber remembers an Aberdeen ambulance ride where Jacob was given a teddy bear. He was just a baby, so he didn't care, she said.
"But I did," she said.
For about five years after that, the family donated teddy bears to the Bowdle Hospital until a local business took it over. She wants to start that again.
Along with financial help, families dealing with an ordeal like theirs benefit from just knowing that others care, Bieber said.
"It makes life a little more worth living . . . when you help somebody else out," she said.