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A community of caring: Ethan native undergoes intensive cancer treatment

Prior to an auction on Saturday morning, Tanner Riggs thanks those who attended a fundraiser for his cancer treatment costs at the American Legion in Ethan. (Ellen Bardash / Republic)1 / 2
Tanner and Karina Riggs listen as bids are made during the auction Saturday. Tanner Riggs is currently undergoing six weeks of radiation at the Mayo Clinic for ethmoid cancer. (Ellen Bardash / Republic)2 / 2

ETHAN—Last year, after seeing a doctor about his nosebleeds, headaches and watery eyes, Tanner Riggs was told he probably just had a sinus infection.

Following intensive chemotherapy, a major surgery and the beginning of radiation, Riggs on Saturday attended a fundraiser for his treatment costs associated with what was recently diagnosed as ethmoid cancer, or cancer in the nasal cavity.

Linda Barber — who has lived near Riggs' parents in Ethan with her husband, Ben, for years — organized the fundraiser at the American Legion in Ethan because she's always known Riggs, a 29-year-old accomplished former jockey, to help others whenever necessary.

She said in addition to helping with day-to-day tasks, Riggs has donated a cow when the sale barn in Mitchell was raising money for cancer organizations and given money to the tracks where he used to race when they were giving box seats to people going through cancer treatment.

"We don't have kids, but he's like our adopted kid," she said. "He always wants to help other people."

The fundraiser included an auction, and while Barber said that while she wasn't sure just how many items were up to bid on because people had continued to make donations through the morning of the fundraiser, she estimated there were about 500 in total, the proceeds of which will go entirely to Riggs' treatment.

"We're fortunate to live in a place like we do with the people we have here," Riggs told The Daily Republic on Saturday.

A year ago, Riggs and his wife, Karina, were married in the same building where the fundraiser was held Saturday, and the couple moved west to a ranch in Milesville

Soon after, Riggs started noticing symptoms. He thought the stress of moving might have been the cause, but a doctor in Rapid City who did a surgery to clear out his sinuses found a mass that suggested a more serious issue.

He was referred to the Mayo Clinic, where testing was done on the mass.

"It was a shock, first," Karina Riggs said. "We were on the edge; we were just waiting on what his results were from the surgery. We were kind of in a limbo because they just told us they were going to test it to check what it is."

Riggs was soon diagnosed with cancer, and a team of doctors set to work, first aiming to save his eye, as the tumor was pushing against it. The first step was chemotherapy, and Riggs said due to his young age, he was given especially high doses.

"That's one thing I didn't realize: all the strength it takes to go through things like chemotherapy," he said. "You see the chemotherapy patients and you think, 'Wow, they're going through a lot.' But until you go through it, you just don't go through the full effects."

After completing chemotherapy, Riggs underwent an eight-hour surgery to remove the tumor in January. Riggs has now completed the first of six weeks of proton beam radiation at the Mayo Clinic, leaving little time between the stages of his treatment to recuperate.

He said that undergoing the proton beam radiation would not have been possible without insurance and that he's happy to have the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, one of only five hospitals in the country to offer that radiation, fairly close to home.

Both the Riggses and Barber said they were grateful to see the amount of community support at the fundraiser. While people had come and gone throughout the morning, Barber said about 200 people had passed through the American Legion by the time the auction started at 11 a.m.

"Everybody has been so caring," Barber said. "Sometimes, nowadays, you don't always get that."