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Author Delia Ephron knows a thing or two about romantic storylines (she and her sister, Nora Ephron, co-wrote the classic 1998 romcom, “You’ve Got Mail”). And lately, she’s been living one.
CBS News’ chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook asked Delia, “If you were to summarize what happened to you over the last few years and pitch it to a movie studio, what do you think the response would be?”
“I think they would buy it!” she laughed. “Suddenly, love lands on me. It’s so amazing to fall in love, and how lucky that I got to.”
But before luck came grief.
Delia lost Nora in 2012, and her husband, Jerome Kass, just three years later – both to forms of cancer. “Every time I came home, he wasn’t there to schmooze about every single thing in the world,” she said. “And yet, he was everywhere, wasn’t he?”
Delia coped with her grief by writing about it, in a darkly funny 2016 New York Times editorial about disconnecting her late husband’s landline. Soon, she got an email from Dr. Peter Rutter, who reminded her they’d gone on a date 54 years earlier, set up by – who else? – Nora.
Delia said, “Part of the amazingness of getting that first email was that he said that Nora had set us up. I mean, I just couldn’t believe it. It was like she was reaching down to me.”
LaPook asked Rutter, “What was it about the Verizon article that made you reach out to Delia?”
“She was single!” he laughed.
“But you had remembered her [after] all these years?”
“Oh, of course! Who forgets an Ephron girl?”
Soon, Rutter and Ephron were an item. At the same time, at Weill Cornell Medicine-New York Presbyterian, Ephron’s blood tests were being monitored at regular intervals by Dr. Gail Roboz, director of Weill Cornell Medicine’s Leukemia Program. It was a cautionary measure, because of Nora’s leukemia.
“Every six months I would go in to see Dr. Roboz, and she would take my blood, and she would say something like, ‘This is the most boring blood I’ve seen all day,’ and send me off,” Ephron said.
Ephron’s results continued to be boring for eight years. But then, Roboz recalled, “In March of 2017, she comes in, she has a blood test, and she was almost getting ready to get up and go. And something flashed on the review of the blood smear. And I went to take a look, and all of a sudden there’s acute leukemia.”
Her reaction? “I think I wanted to run away,” she said. “The shock of this, I gotta tell you, It’s a gut punch for us, and it’s a gut punch to the patient.”
LaPook said of Roboz’s reaction “She said when she realized that you had leukemia, and she needed to tell you that, she wanted to run away.”
“Oh, my goodness,” said Ephron. “Oh, my goodness. Oh. My God.”
She writes about the diagnosis in her new memoir, “Left on Tenth” (Little, Brown).
Roboz said, “She’s going from feeling fine to this awful news, coming in the hospital, catheter in her arm, chemotherapy. It’s absolutely an unbelievable, sort of, 180 in one’s life.”
But that 180 was, for Ephron and Rutter, a reason to take the next step. As Ephron recalled, “Peter and I were having breakfast on Sunday, and I was making French toast. And he suddenly stands up and says, ‘Will you marry me?’ I mean, in the sweetest … it was so sweet. And I said, ‘Yes.’
“And we got married in the hospital, in the dining room on the 14th floor, with just a very few friends.”
Also attending: Dr. LaPook, capturing it all on video.
Ephron said, “I had the hospital band on my wrist and the flowers in my other hand.”
“And the wedding band on the other!” said LaPook.
“Exactly. There was just such kind of amazing disconnect. And yet at the same time, it was just very loving.”
With her new husband by her side, Ephron tackled chemotherapy, and then a stem cell transplant.
Her transplant doctor, Ephron recalled, said, “Basically, I have a 20% chance of survival. And I said, ‘But we just fell in love!’ I don’t know why I said that, ’cause obviously it was absolutely irrelevant, right? But I guess in my head, I wanted him to know this mattered.”
She said love is what kept her going. But the transplant took its toll, and she was having trouble breathing. So, she told Dr. Roboz: “I just want out. I can’t take it anymore.”
Roboz said, “She was calling in people and asking for that end-of-life conversation. So, I was mentally scrambling for what would be a way to handle this.”
Ephron recalled her response: “She said – this is so brilliant – ‘Give me 48 hours, and if I get somewhere, give me another 48.’ So, she gave me hope and an endgame in one sentence.”
Roboz’s rationale? “I didn’t want her to give up. I thought she’d be okay.”
Forty-eight hours later, Ephron’s breathing began to improve. Today, four years later, there’s no evidence of leukemia on any test … and she is still very much in love.
“When something like this happens, where everything fits in some way, that is just extraordinary,” Ephron said. “It just makes you wonder about life.”
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Story produced by Amiel Weisfogel. Editor: Carol Ross.
First published on April 17, 2022 / 9:33 AM
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