Just shy of a year ago, Tara Haaland-Ford was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. Eleven months, two surgeries, and many bouts of chemotherapy later, the high-profile defense attorney and married mother of two is still battling for her health, having endured her latest trip to the operating room on September 25. But, as Haaland-Ford is quick to tell you, her determination to kick the cancer hasn’t waned one bit and she’s taking the battle day by day. “When I woke up from surgery,” she said, “I knew it was going to be a hard road and a long journey. But in the end, I’m going to beat it.”
Though she’s enrolled in her husband’s health insurance plan — he works for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department — “it doesn’t cover nearly what you’d think it cover,” Haaland-Ford explained. Luckily for her and her family, Haaland-Ford was chosen as the beneficiary of this year’s Friendship Paddle, an annual fundraiser held in the name of someone in the Santa Barbara community afflicted with a life-threatening illness. The goal is to raise $100,000, and organizers say they’re about halfway there.
Launching from the west end of Santa Cruz Island on Saturday at 7:30 a.m., a few dozen paddlers — some making the journey all by themselves, others taking one relay leg of the trip — will head across the Santa Barbara Channel and land at the Santa Barbara Yacht Club by around 3:30 p.m. After that, a celebration of life event will be held at the Maritime Museum. Haaland-Ford said while she had hoped to participate in the paddle, the doctors advised against it. Instead, she’ll be in a boat cruising alongside her team of supporters.
Touched by the outpouring of compassion and encouragement she’s received over the past year, Haaland-Ford said the people around her have inspired her to stay strong, to keep life as normal as possible for her two young daughters as she’s in and out of the hospital. “We have such an amazing community,” she said. Not long ago, one of Haaland-Ford’s friends wrote “Fuck cancer” on her Facebook wall. That inspired the creation of the “Tara Says Fuck Cancer” blog where Haaland-Ford keeps friends and family updated on her progress. There’s also a link to donate. “We tell the kids ‘TSFC’ stands for ‘Tara Says Fight Cancer,’” she quipped.
Since her last round of surgery, Haaland-Ford — who’s been in Santa Barbara since college — said she’s taking some much-needed down time with her family, but is slowly feeling better and has stopped taking her pain pills. She’s embraced a few eastern medicine remedies as well, working with a healer, herb doctor, and nutritionist, and credited much of her recovery thus far with those supplemental regiments. Haaland-Ford said she’s looking forward to returning to work — she runs the Santa Barbara Teen Legal Clinic out of her office and has been a vocal opponent of the gang injunction with clients on the injunction list — and getting back into shape. “I can’t wait to work out again,” she sighed. “Like a real workout.”
Continuing with her perpetually upbeat and positive outlook on what she admitted has been a very trying time, Haaland-Ford said she’s happy to see that her diagnosis has prompted a few of the folks around her to schedule colon screenings, quit smoking, and get healthier. “I look at that as a blessing,” she said.
Fore more information on the Friendship Paddle and ways to donate, go here.