Photography by Jessica Turner.

Tara Rasheta had two babies and was working full time as a talent consultant when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 35. Her husband was in law school, and she was the family’s primary breadwinner. “I didn’t know how much help I needed, but people recognized it and stepped up,” she says. Neighbors prepared meals and sent gifts. Others offered to babysit her kids. As she got stronger, she wanted to pay it forward. In December 2018, about a year after her diagnosis, she founded A Model Patient, a nonprofit that provides women undergoing breast cancer treatment with meal deliveries and care packages filled with clean beauty products, colorful scarves, journals and more. “I was so touched by the sweet cards and gifts from complete strangers because it reminded me that I wasn’t alone,” Rasheta says. “I found a lot of joy in giving back. It was part of my healing.”

HER DIAGNOSIS: My family has a history of cancer, so I was always mindful of it. When I found a lump, I knew what it was. It was still a shock, but I felt better prepared. I have two girls, 7 and 5 now. I never wanted to hide my illness from them. We talk about the word cancer. They help me drop things off for the nonprofit. Hopefully they’re learning it’s better to give than to receive.

ON FAMILY: I was supportive of [my husband] going to law school, but it was overwhelming. We had to make tough financial decisions. My chemo would be several hours long, and if he didn’t have class, he’d sit by me, studying his law books. He’d study during my surgeries.

ON SELF-CARE: I still wanted to feel pretty even though I didn’t have any hair and my skin was wrecked. I always did my nails. That was a thing I could do for myself. [A Model Patient] sends stick-on gel nails and pretty nail polishes. I have great lip balms and hand lotions — things I remember making me feel good. Fragrances were very bothersome, so I try to keep things naturally fragranced. I sent a card that said, “Bald is better with earrings.” We spend a lot of time talking about what a patient needs.

STARTING A NONPROFIT: My husband helped. It was his first pro bono case. We put together charity events, and it’s grown. It’s a really simple mission. I wish I was curing cancer, but I know there’s a lot of impact in the small things.

ON FUNDRAISING: We had a big fundraiser Jan. 31, 2020. That carried us through the year. I helped host a neighborhood pop-up shop. Friends who own businesses donated a collection of the proceeds to A Model Patient. Fundraising is hard, but it’s something you have to do. It was hard last year, but people were still willing to give. When I ask for help, someone’s always raising their hands to say they’ll do it.

RACING WITH DALLAS UNITED PINK: Before I got cancer, I was really healthy. I ate well, took care of my body and exercised regularly. The day after chemo, I’d just lay in bed and veg. I read an article in The Advocate about the dragon boat breast cancer survivor team. I knew [rowing] would help my body heal. I knew having a lot of arm strength would help with lymphedema. Days after surgery, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do that, but the body does its thing, and it allowed me to gain range of motion. I joined the last two seasons. I still keep up with those ladies, and I’m going to continue to support that organization.

ON TEAM CHEMISTRY: The women were like a support group. It was about empowering each other. I was the youngest member on the team and sat by the oldest member on the team. She was 80 at the time. The women found such purpose in it, and it was neat to be part of that.

WHAT MAKES A FIERCE FEMALE: Fierce females have strength of character and endurance. Women who push forward through challenges and obstacles. Women who stand their ground and remain true to who they are. I’ve met women who never knew their strength until they were forced to muster it up in one fell swoop. I hope I am those things. I certainly strive to be.

HER GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: I’m proud of how we handled [my cancer]. It would have been easy to cry and wallow in it. Even when we have to face things that are very ugly and hard, we can try to do it with grace and find reasons for gratitude. Learning to have compassion for others is important. I think my girls learned a lot from being there with me. Hopefully we set a good example because they’ll have their own challenges someday.

ADVICE SHE’D GIVE HER YOUNGER SELF: Comparison is the thief of joy. It was easy to look around and say, “Why can’t my family be like that family?” But you never know what other people are going through. I think being a cancer survivor made me a better person. I wish it’s something I learned earlier.

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