Bike rider Bill Swift even pedaled across the country under the banner "Why Do I Ride?" raising money for Marsh with each mile.
Now, the 28-year-old Marsh faces four felony charges of theft and fraud for allegedly faking the cancer and duping her donors.
Despite the charges - and Marsh's admission she had a cancer diagnosis added to a doctor's report to bolster her claims - her stepmother insists she is sick. Rose Walker Marsh said her stepdaughter is at the San Diego Cancer Center, "where her doctors are working to pinpoint the exact sources and find appropriate treatment."
But last summer, other family members were not so sure of the illness and alerted Swift and fellow fundraiser Logan Marlatt that Marsh might be faking.
The two are now working with the district attorney, who recently sent more than 100 letters to donors who supported Marsh. Those letters warn they may have been duped.
Swift said the DA has advised him not to talk about the case other than to say he and Marlatt "are victims in this as well and when we became suspicious we went to the police."
Seventh Judicial District Attorney Myrl Serra and Marsh, through public defender Amanda Hammond, also declined to comment.
"She wants to tell everyone her story, but she is going to wait until the case is over," Hammond said.
Cancer in her tailbone?
Tausha Marsh grew up on a ranch in Wyoming's Little Snake River Valley near the Colorado border. At Gunnison's Western State College, she played volleyball and basketball and studied art and photography. After graduating in May 2004, she told Marlatt, a friend from the volleyball team, she had bone cancer in her tailbone. In November 2007 she told Marlatt the bone cancer was nearly gone but she now had cervical cancer.
"I feel like I was running a marathon and as I was about to cross the finish line they extended the race another leg, which has been almost crippling to my body and mind," Marsh wrote in a May 2008 fundraising letter. "I have a will to survive and my strength will only carry me so far, which is why I am reaching out for help and support."
Marlatt and Swift launched fundraising efforts in March 2008. Swift biked from Oregon to North Carolina, with Marlatt driving a support car.
In a Gunnison Country Times article from July, Swift was quoted as saying: "People always ask me, why do I ride? Well, now I ride for Tausha."
Donations through Swift and Marlatt's website raised more than $15,000, and another $10,000 may have been raised through other efforts, according to police reports filed by Marlatt and Swift.
In July, Marsh traveled to Europe for five weeks of specialized treatment at the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam. Before she left, Marlatt and Swift - who were in charge of her charitable donations - gave Marsh $5,000 for expenses and bought her a $1,989 laptop, according to police reports.
But later that summer, Swift and Marlatt began to question Marsh's illness. They heard from some of Marsh's family members that she was faking. They asked Marsh for documentation. When that paperwork didn't convince them, they went to the police.
A police report filed Oct. 3 details the story behind the charges.
The case springs from a handwritten report describing an April 2008 examination by Dr. Nola MacDonald in Fort Collins. The report, provided to police by the Marsh family attorney, says "pap, blood work and CT bone scan" showed "1st stage bone cancer, early 1st stage cervical cancer."
When Gunnison officer Chris Danos faxed MacDonald a copy of that report, the doctor said it had been altered from an Oct. 27, 2005, examination report. MacDonald said she never saw Marsh in 2008 and there was never a mention of cervical cancer.
"It was never diagnosed or considered," reads Danos' report. "Dr. MacDonald identified the altered information in her examination report to be fictitious and a forgery of her authentic examination report."
MacDonald's reports sent to Danos do mention a 2005 bone scan that did not end with a cancer diagnosis.
Danos then called all of Marsh's doctors. In more than 65 pages of reports from doctors and radiologists in Steamboat Springs, Fort Collins, Gunnison, Montrose and California, there is no mention of a cancer diagnosis, according to Danos' report.
Danos reached doctors in Southern California, where Marsh's family says she has been pursuing treatment since last fall, before the DA filed charges against her. At one facility, the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, Marsh's doctors reported she was receiving treatment for bone and cervical cancer. But the medical coordinator at the facility, Asha Mac Isaac, told Danos that the Chopra Center is a "wellness facility," not a diagnostic center. Patients identify their own ailments, Mac Isaac told Danos.
Radiologists and two more doctors in Carlsbad reported seeing Marsh but found no indication of cancer.
Marsh sobs on the phone
Last December, Danos spoke with Marsh on the phone. She told Danos that Swift and Marlatt began raising money for her without her knowledge or approval.
When Danos said he had determined that MacDonald's diagnosis was altered, Marsh began to sob.
"She apologized a number of times, insisting she was sick and that doctors had stated she displayed all the symptoms of having cancer, but she has never tested positive for cancer," Danos' report says.
The report says Marsh admitted to taking MacDonald's medical reports to Amsterdam where she had them altered to include a cancer diagnosis.
"Marsh told me she did not mean to hurt anybody. Marsh told me she did not want the money," Danos wrote.
The police report includes several paragraphs removed from public record to protect Marsh's medical privacy. Those redactions include notes from seven doctors addressing why they have treated Marsh. But, according to Danos, there are no diagnoses of cancer.
Today a Gunnison judge will hear arguments about whether there is enough evidence to proceed toward a preliminary hearing, tentatively set for April 24.
Walker Marsh said her stepdaughter is "shocked" at the charges and allegations from her former friends.
"The individuals who began the fundraising efforts," she said, "did so voluntarily - it was their idea - and were aware of Tausha's desire to pursue treatment options that were alternatives to the traditional mass doses of chemotherapy that are so devastating."
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