Barb Tarbox



Meet Barb Tarbox, a courageous 41-year-old mother who lost her battle with lung cancer caused by smoking. Barb’s story will break your heart. And although she knew she would soon die, she spent the last months of her life travelling the country, telling her story to over 40,000 students in the hope that just one young person would heed her warning. In Barb’s words: “Promise me you’ll quit smoking, or you’ll never start, or you’ll help others. I want you to have a phenomenal life”.

It did happen to her. It can happen to you.


Barb had inoperable cancer. She died because of one thing: cigarettes. She started smoking because she wanted to fit in. She thought cigarettes would give her the confidence she lacked.

Instead, they gave her cancer.


"In September 2002, I went to my doctor for my annual exam. I felt great. I had my regular chest x-ray because I’m a smoker.

The x-ray came back with a “shadow”. The doctor thought it was likely nothing but they did more tests. It wasn’t “nothing”. It turned out to be inoperable cancer – a death sentence. I had only a few months to live and no second chances.

It wasn’t just one cancerous tumour. I had three tumours in my lungs, plus a massive tumour in my brain. I didn’t have a cough and had never had a headache.

Now, three months later, I am dying. I am very weak, my speech is slurred and my vision is impaired. I have seizures and my memory is going. The cancer has spread to my lymph nodes. The headaches are massive. My knuckles have turned black. My legs look like a road map with big, black veins sticking out. My body’s tissue is dying. There isn’t a perfume that can mask the smell of death, the smell of your body dying. 

I suffered 10 sessions of radiation. First they create a mesh mask of your head. You lie on a table and they bolt the mask down so you can’t move; it is so tight you can’t even blink. And then, they shoot volts of radiation at your head. You can smell your flesh burning. There are no protective shields. Just volts of radiation aimed at the cancer. Unfortunately, my cancer didn’t respond, and so we didn’t continue.

This is all because of cigarettes. I blame myself. I chose to smoke. I chose my destiny. There is no pain like the pain I feel right now knowing I will soon be parted from my 9-year-old daughter and my husband. And my pain is greater knowing that I’m totally responsible; that my smoking is the reason why I’m dying. . It was my decision to start smoking and to continue smoking – even after my mom died of lung cancer 19 years earlier.

September 22, 1983 my mom died from lung cancer. I was 21 at the time. When my mom was diagnosed the doctor said “Barb do you smoke?” I said “yes”. He said “If you don’t quit smoking now, I’m going to see you in 20 years”. My mom begged me to stop and I told her I would try. But I just kept putting it off. Then 19 years later, on September 19, 2002, I was given the same death sentence.

When you die, you leave behind so much pain for the people that continue living. It hurts me so much to think of the pain I’ll cause my daughter. You think your smoking only affects you.

I started smoking the summer before I entered junior high school. I was in grade seven and nervous because I left a small elementary school to enter a big junior high. I soon discovered that the cool crowd smoked. So I tried. I then puked for three days, but I continued trying. I would sneak my mom’s cigarettes. I continued trying. I wanted to fit in with the ‘in’ crowd.

In junior high I was a good athlete. I played volleyball, basketball and swam and skied. People thought I was attractive; at 6’ I stood out and had beautiful hair. You would have never guessed that I felt inferior. I thought smoking would give me the confidence I lacked and wanted so badly. Instead it stole my life.

By the time I entered senior high I couldn’t make any sports teams. I was up to a pack of cigarettes a day and the smoking already had an effect. I couldn’t keep up with the girls that didn’t smoke. So I dropped out. I became a model when I was 14. That helped to give me the confidence that I craved.

Everybody lacks confidence sometime in life. We think we’re the only ones. You can look at someone and think you want to be like them, and when you get to know them you realize they too don’t feel like they fit in. People thought I had it all. I thought differently. I thought smoking was the answer. By the time I knew it wasn’t, I was hooked and couldn’t quit. I wish that I had strived to achieve that confidence on my own – not with a cigarette. Smoking won’t give you confidence, the confidence is inside you, and you just need to find it.

The hardest part is leaving my daughter Mackenzie, knowing that my decision to smoke is taking away my daughter’s mother. Nothing can prepare her for my departure. A girl needs a mom and mine won’t have one.

If you decide to smoke you could end up like me. I used to say, “it could never happen”, but it has. You too will be responsible for your premature death. You’ll watch your loved ones suffer while you die, all because for a short time in your teenage life you wanted to fit in. It is my hope that my story just one protects person from experiencing my pain."  

  • "It Can Never Happen To Me!" (