BY SUSAN ESTRICH
My friend Nancy began her last adventure when the doctors at an upstate New York hospital told her there was no way she could get on a plane to come home to Los Angeles [the altitude would kill her] and instead proposed to transfer her to a New York City hospital for surgery.
She decided to rent an RV. Linda, her daughter, who was with her, called her brothers back in Los Angeles. Bobby and Brian got on the red-eye, and they all met up at Hertz. Brian brought his video camera. They stopped at Nancy’s childhood house in New Jersey. They got supplies at Whole Foods. They ate prime rib at Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse in Pennsylvania. They made it to St. Louis.
Nancy MacNeil Daly Riordan lived for more than three years with stage IV pancreatic cancer.
She was married twice, both powerful men. Bob Daly was the studio chief at Warner Bros. She was an influential wife. Dick Riordan was the mayor of Los Angeles. She was his liberal Democratic “first lady.”
In 1979, she visited MacLaren Hall, the now-closed facility for foster kids in Los Angeles County. Lovekidsla was her e-mail address. She stopped buying Christmas gifts and gave to the kids at MacLaren. She got the county to create a Department for Children and Families. She served on the President’s Commission on Children. She spent three decades fighting for kids, and she raised three of her own. She knew what mattered.
Nancy did things women didn’t do in this town, made a transition few women make. She chaired the board of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the big boys, and she really did chair it. She had power in her own right. She made calls and was on top of her game.
Then she got sick. Bad sick. Scary, frightening, stage IV pancreatic cancer sick. She’d gone to India and thought she caught a bug. She had the Whipple surgery; her cancer was so advanced that had they known, they might not have operated. They took everything they could. Hard recovery. Diabetes, of course. Continuing chemo.
She was rich, but she didn’t have it easy. I was with her the day she moved her things out of their/his house and into storage. I came home and screamed at the guys who’d spent all day installing a carpet I had never seen. She went to Fiji with John and Joanne – some trip she’d won in a charity auction – and met a handsome age-appropriate ex-pat, who wore very short shorts when I met him that summer.
Then she bought a new house, retrieved all her stuff from storage and made it beautiful. She built tree houses for her grandkids in the yard, decorated for last year’s Halloween party, hosted Fourth of July parties two years running and traveled halfway around the world.
She fell in love with her oncologist. I know, who doesn’t? He fell in love with her. She had stage IV pancreatic cancer, and she had a great love affair. They went out all the time. They traveled. I would swear it gave her a year. Toward the end, it all fell apart. She said to me once as we were sitting in the chemo room talking about him that she thought it was time she “grew up.” But of course, that wasn’t what she meant.
She drew her children close. She showered them with her love. She took them on a last adventure. After the prime-rib dinner, she went to sleep. She smiled in Indiana and took her last breath in Missouri, and then the kids drove the RV to the ER.
My friend Nancy knew how to live. Her friendship was a gift.
– Susan Estrich’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer