Taylor Lieber fought cancer for seven years, undergoing dozens of scans, tests and surgeries. Rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Two bone marrow transplants. After each procedure, she told the nurses and doctors that she appreciated them, said her mother, Lauren Lieber.
“No matter how painful or how rough, no matter if she was crying at the end, she would always thank them.”
Taylor Lieber, a cancer survivor and aspiring nurse, died Aug. 12. The Edina High School graduate and St. Catherine University student was 22 years old.
Athletic and musical, with a love for giraffes and the outdoors, Lieber received a diagnosis at 15 of Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare tumor in a rare spot: her sinuses. She and her family trekked to Indiana University for radiation treatments. She donated her hair. She took long late-night walks. She accepted piggyback rides from her dad, Dan.
Lieber was a strong student, good at math, said one of her teachers, Nate Murphy. But months of treatment and radiation “made what had been easy for her a lot harder,” he said. So Lieber showed up in Murphy’s classroom every day after school, working hard and asking questions. In the end, she earned an A.
“She was so dedicated. She never, ever once complained,” he said. “She just knew she was going to have to work harder to obtain the same things.”
Lieber graduated from high school in 2015 — on time and with honors. At her graduation party, though, she felt unwell. Soon after, she was diagnosed with secondary high-risk acute myeloid leukemia. She had a bone-marrow transplant in 2015 and, after relapsing in late 2018, another in February.
She became an ambassador, volunteer and board member for many cancer charities, including the Children’s Cancer Research Fund (CCRF), for which “Team Taylor” has raised more than $24,000. A soprano and guitar player, Lieber performed songs at CCRF events and shared her story via intimate blog posts.
“Keep your chin up and fight like a warrior,” she wrote. “You’ll hurt. You’ll be weak. You’ll cry — but you won’t give up. You’ll find a strength you didn’t even know existed.”
She attended the University of Minnesota for two years, then St. Catherine’s in St. Paul. She was undergoing chemo during finals and, unable to see, had her father read her the questions, answering them orally. In January, Lieber was accepted into the baccalaureate nursing program.
After spending so much time in hospitals, it might have made sense that Taylor would run in the opposite direction of health care, Lauren Lieber said. But she planned to become a pediatric nurse anesthetist.
“With her grades, she could have been the anesthesiologist,” Lauren said. Nurses, though, spent more time with patients, starting their IVs and putting them at ease. “She had been sedated so many times that she figured she would have a special ability to offer that kind of care.”
Nurses always appreciated a stop by her hospital room.
“She could be having the worst possible day with the worst possible pain, and the first thing she would say is, ‘How are you?’ ” said Megan Voss, integrative therapies program manager for the Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Center at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
Lieber would have made an excellent nurse, Voss said. “She had that unique ability to sit with the pain and sorrow and discomfort of this world. And she would have done that with her patients as they went through suffering.”
In addition to her mother and father, Lieber’s survivors include her brother, Michael Lieber, and her grandparents. Services have been held.