(19-05-30) Fly Free.

It is with deep sadness we share that Tarah passed away peacefully at St. Joes on Tuesday, May 28th, 2019.

Tarah battled cancer in the exact same way she lived her life, with unprecedented levels of stubbornness and tenacity, an enviable level of grace and gratitude and (certainly not least important) eternally impeccable grooming.

If you know Tarah, you’ll know that it likely gave her no small measure of satisfaction to know that her nails, toes, and eyebrows were (as she would have said) on point. Her hospital gown exactly matched the ocean blue of those beautiful eyes that saw everything, whether you wanted them to or not.

Even at the end, such things would have mattered to Tarah, and so they mattered to us as well.

Like everything else she took on during her life, Tarah fought cancer her own way, on her own time, and accepted no arguments. I can only imagine that in the entire history of the universe, cancer has never met a more formidable opponent.

I know I never have.

Never one to accept anyone’s notion of how things should be done, Tarah charted her own path through life. She began even before birth, making her mother wait almost an entire month after her due date. With a typical flair for the dramatic entrance, Tarah chose to arrive just in the nick of time to spare her mother a cesarean.

As anyone who has ever known Tarah can attest, she continued pushing boundaries, challenging limits, and fighting the system with every bit of moxie she could muster (and that was plenty of moxie) from there.

Tarah didn’t just fight her own battles, she was always ready to take on the world, and this world was better for it. From her hybrid car plastered with uber-liberal bumper stickers that left no doubt as to her left-of-center beliefs (the source of her first national news exposure) to her steadfast commitment to being an ethical consumer. Tarah was one of those rare individuals who walked her talk, every single day of her life.

These last few years gave her ample opportunity to show the world just how determined she could be, battling not only cancer (which would have been more than enough for most mere humans) but also the state of Arizona. In characteristic Tarah-style, she effortlessly called in national media and government attention and created safety and security for fellow state employees facing health challenges like her own.

Those who knew her were not surprised. Tarah was an uncommon woman who blazed her own trail, through and through.

Uncommon and determined, yes. But a good, compliant patient she was not. Tarah took great pride in sharing the many stories of her refusal to bend to authority or conventional treatment protocol. I can only imagine the combination of utter frustration and reluctant admiration her providers must have had for her, only because I know it myself.

Tarah did not do things by anyone’s book; she found herself a pen (likely, knowing her, several multicolored pens with a complex system of color coding!), stole herself some paper, and wrote her own — entirely grammatically correct — story.

If she had to fight this particular fight, she was going to do it her way. And that is what she did.

Tarah was never easy — with unprecedented levels of self-awareness, dig-her-heels in the ground dogged persistence, a righteous sense of justice and entirely few fucks given.

No, Tarah was never easy, but for those of us who loved her, she was always worth it.

As her cancer returned and progressed this last year, our independent-to-a-fault Tarah was forced to accept more and more care and assistance. I was struck by the grace, strength, and gratitude with which she welcomed the help she needed. Even in tremendous pain, and facing levels of dependence that could not have been easy for a woman so fiercely self-reliant, Tarah remained quintessentially Tarah. Funny and sarcastic, stubborn yet appreciative, unconventional to a fault and incredibly loyal to the people and animals she loved the most.

Tarah left this world far sooner than she should have, and far sooner than any of us were ready for. In the end, she was peaceful, surrounded by her beloved boyfriend, Harold, her devoted friend and roommate, Jenna, Her mother, Linda and myself, as well as the energy and love of her dearest Kyana, dedicated friends Glenda and Tyler and close family Uncle Ken, as well as so many of the friends and loved ones who had played an intimate role in her support and care over the past few months.

Tarah was not one for organized religion (I’m pretty sure she had a bumper sticker for that!), but it was a holy honor to be present in that room with those that loved her the most as her spirit left her body and continued to the all and the everything and the nothing that lies beyond this existence. To have held her hand and kissed her forehead and whispered my love to her unchanging essence. I am forever grateful for that moment.

Once, near the beginning of our friendship, Tarah took me to see Wicked. And from that day onward, my song for her was “For Good.”

“I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you…”

Knowing Tarah changed me forever. She pushed me and challenged me and pissed me off, over and over again. She forced me to look beyond my own small notions into a larger, wide open world. She taught me how to give fewer fucks, just through witnessing her fierce insistence on being wholly herself and nothing but herself. She showed up for her people, even when it cost her to do so. Tarah had higher standards and expected more of herself than anyone I know, and in turn, she expected more of us. She saw what we — her friends, her students, her loved ones, were capable of —and she didn’t settle for less. She asked us to step into that version of ourselves, and we became more in response (mostly because Tarah seldom took no for an answer).

Being granted access to her final months and weeks on this earth is a blessing for which I have no words.

Fly free, Tarah Nicole Ausburn. Wherever it is that you are now, I hope they have damn good pedicures, an unending source of shoes, handbags, and glasses to match every outfit, all the scrabble tiles you could ever ask for, and worthy enough opponents to keep you from getting bored.

Wherever you are — keep on raising hell, pushing boundaries, asking hard questions, and not letting people get away with complacency.

I’d send a warning ahead of you, but I’d hazard a guess that you’ve already made some changes and stirred things up a notch. That’s okay, this universe needs a little bit of an ass-kicking, and I can’t imagine anyone better suited to give it.

xo, forever


In celebration and honor of Tarah and the incredible life she has lived, please share your favorite photos, memories, and stories in the comments below.

(19-05-11) Chemo Problems

My last day of pelvic radiation went off without a hitch. The fatigue side effects will soon dissipate, although since I do have brain radiation all next week, I might end up feeling just as exhausted and weak for a few more weeks to come. I’m also curious to know whether I’ll end up getting that radiation sunburn like I did last time. With that last time of breast radiation, it was during the third week of radiation that the sunburn developed, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see….

I met with Dr. Patel, my radiologist, immediately afterwards. There were a few worthy points:

  • She said my brain tumor was 1.7cm x 1.6cm and had settled near my hippocampus. In Mexico, Dr. Rubio said it was 1.2cm and resting near my occipital and frontal lobes. So it is definitely growing and moving around, which explains my changing symptoms.
  • She said that the radiation right now is not to shrink tumors, but actually deal with pain management. I’m in so much pain right now that statement seems laughable, but I know that my pain is mostly from my edema.
  • She also said that Dr Curley will decide if I go back to radiation for any other spots on my body later down the road.

So… Radiation was easy. Chemo today was not. I stopped counting at 7 but they basically spent an hour trying to find a vein where they could draw blood. They like to have a full blood panel before chemo just to make sure there aren’t going to be any problems. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find a vein because I’m so swollen with edema that the needles that were actually making it in to my skin could not draw any blood, only edema fluid.

They then told me that I couldn’t have chemo if we couldn’t do the blood draw. I threw a goddamn fit, turned into bratty non-compliant patient Tarah, and basically made so many arguments and refused to leave until I got chemo. I eventually won, but damn, that was quite a fight.

Next week: five days of brain radiation.

(19-05-10) Clinical Updates

  • Tomorrow is my last day of pelvic radiation. I don’t know if they are able to give me any results at that point, but I do see the doctor afterward. Fingers crossed for some good information.
  • Tomorrow is also my second out of third chemo session. You all know I’m not looking forward to that but at least I get to use a really cool mask. Brain radiation happens all week, and doctor Scolnik assured me that between that and the steroids I’m taking, I will start to feel better. I don’t know if he tells all of this patient’s that, but I can tell you that I’ve been very impressed with him so far. He gave me his personal email address in case I have any questions about this process, and he also calls and checks on me. Doctors today just aren’t like that, and I have three on my treatment team willing to go extra miles just for me.
  • I rented a scooter for almost $400, and Amy lent me a wheelchair. I still try not to leave the chair when nobody’s home, due to the risk of falling, but at least I have more mobility around the house when people are here, and it’s a little better to be going out when I have those tools, and people are taking me to appointments.
  • When I checked 2 days ago, my weight was down to 152. This means that I have lost eight pounds of the edema, and Dr. Scolnick upped my diuretic dosage so that I could start losing more of this faster. It hurts so much. I know as soon as my legs are back to normal, I’ll be able to stand and walk on my own better, so this is the one area I’m so focused on.

(19-05-06) Bad to Worse

I wish I had better news for you. I don’t. Bullet points of updates:

  • At this point, I am on house arrest. If I don’t need to leave the house for medical or legal purposes, I am not allowed to go.
  • I have pneumonia, which is still obvious from the phlegmy cough from hell I have every day.
  • Did I tell you I was recently in the hospital for six days? It was because my brain tumor was expanding on my brain in such a way that was grossly affecting my motor-coordination, memory, and language skills. Scary day. I thought it was my last.
  • Right now, my medical entendre includes two weeks of pelvis radiation (just finished one), then one week of brain radiation, and chemo on April 19, May 10, & May 31. Then we check on progress, to see if we are making any.
  • I get by on a walker. Tomorrow, a power scooter is being delivered that I spent $400 to rent.
  • One of the reasons I can’t walk is because of the 30 POUNDS that the hospital sent me home with. It’s disgusting. I think I still have 27.
  • I cry every day. Some people tell me not to, so I talk to them less on purpose. Right now, I am living the exact end-of-care that I did NOT want for myself. I think many people forget that.