The Citizen Spotlight is a project I started with Oklahoma Gazette to highlight people in our community who stand out for their leadership, kindness and good deeds. Read this story on the Oklahoma Gazette website here.
Tarah Warren of Tenaciously Teal
When she was 29 years old, Tarah Warren got some of the worst news anyone could: she had cancer.
Her fight with Stage IV Ovarian Cancer would change her life forever.
“I had a very extensive fight ahead of me, including surgery and 16 months of chemo,” Warren said.
“Lots of time in the hospital. A week-long stay after the surgery, then throughout chemo. It’s a super hard and a really intense battle, but I had this huge support system. I saw a lot of people who didn’t have a strong support system. A lot of people are in the hospital by themselves, going through chemo by themselves. It’s very difficult to go through something so hard alone- you’re fighting for your life, I mean literally facing death. It means so much to have people reach out to you and be reminded that there’s someone that cares, and I have a lot of those people. There are some people who didn’t even have just one person to be there for them, so I started bringing care packs with me to treatment and writing a handwritten note for each one. At first, I just brought a few, like five or ten, but then I was soon bringing 20, 40, then 50. Suddenly I was the care pack lady with my little wagon and stuff. I never anticipated it going beyond my treatment, especially since I didn’t really know what was going to happen to me. I was told I was gonna die from that diagnosis. And miraculously, I was declared cancer-free. The question was posed, ‘Are you gonna keep coming back and doing this?’ Initially, I was like, ‘Probably not. I don’t think I could come back to this room where so much suffering happened in my life,’ but I just really felt led to do it. I thought, if I don’t, who will? And I didn’t have an answer to that question, so I kept going.”
In 2014, after her cancer went into remission, Tarah founded Tenaciously Teal as an official non-profit designed to provide support for those fighting the debilitating diseases. The organization’s primary focus is to provide care packs to those undergoing cancer treatment across the country, and they’re able to extend financial assistance to Oklahoma residents undergoing cancer treatment to help ease the burden of high hospital bills.
“We provide gas and grocery cards as a way to help people get back and forth to treatment. Especially now with the high gas prices. We’re seeing so many applications from people that say they literally cannot afford gas to get back and forth to treatment. When you have radiation every single day for eight weeks, and you have to drive to the hospital each day, the costs add up quickly. There’s no other organization that helps with that need for cancer patients. We also offer grants for any kind of extenuating circumstances that people are facing because of their cancer diagnosis. There’s so many of those people out there. That’s truly where my heart is with this organization – helping people who are in need. And knowing that a lot of us are truly one diagnosis, one serious life event away from being in poverty, losing your house, not being able to afford food, or groceries. I’m really proud that we are able to take a stand and help bridge that gap for people.”
Going beyond care packages and financial assistance, Tarah wanted to help people embrace their changing bodies and provide support through the process. She designed Brave Shaves and Empowerment Shoots as a way to help patients brave the journey.
“We started doing Brave Shaves in 2016 as a catalyst to seeing my mom go through treatment for breast cancer. She was told she was going to lose her hair. She knew she was going to lose her hair, but that didn’t make it any easier. I think a lot of people don’t realize that when you start chemotherapy, you’ve got two weeks before you lose it. And it comes out fast. So, in the midst of the diagnosis, the surgery, and chemo, now I’m going to lose my hair, what do I do? The motivation was for us to be able to come alongside you and help you through the process, and we’ll make it whatever you need it to be. For some, that’s like all the friends, all the family, we’re gonna have a party, we’re going to celebrate this. Other people just want their spouse or their best friend to simply hold their hand. We invite them into our space, and we can cater the event or just provide the stylists. It’s tailored to each person, whatever they need. And then the Empowerment Shoots are a documentation of the journey. A way to embrace it, celebrate it.”
It’s an arduous fight and one Warren feels is worth celebrating. Each year as their primary fundraising event, Tenaciously Teal hosts a fashion show featuring cancer survivors and patients, giving them a night of glamor and fun. This year’s Care Packs and Cocktails event will take place July 22 at The Criterion, 500 E. Sheridan Ave.
In addition to Tarah, Tenaciously Teal has now grown to more than 100 volunteers and one part-time employee. To date, they’ve delivered more than 37,000 care packs across the country. Each comes with a handwritten note. When looking toward the future, Warren hopes to see the organization grow into something much more.
“We’re looking forward to having more space to facilitate the programs we currently have and have room to grow. And facilitating that community that we’ve built, but more efficiently, and most importantly to just keep empowering people, encouraging them and just loving them,” she said.
To learn more about Tenaciously Teal, visit tteal.org.