Delia Ephron on love, cancer and a second chance

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Author Delia Ephron knows a thing or two about romance storylines (she and sister Nora Ephron co-wrote the 1998 romance classic You’ve Got Mail). And lately she’s been living one.

CBS News senior medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook asked Delia, “If you were to summarize what has happened to you over the past few years and take it to a film studio, what do you think the answer would be?”

“I think they would buy it!” She laughed. “All of a sudden, love lands on me. It’s so amazing to fall in love and how lucky I was to have it.”

But before happiness came sadness.

Delia Ephron and Nora Ephron at the 2009 opening party for their Off-Broadway play,

Delia lost Nora in 2012 and her husband Jerome Kass just three years later — both to cancer. “Every time I came home, he wasn’t there to chatter about everything in the world,” she said. “And yet he was everywhere, wasn’t he?”

Delia coped with her grief by writing about how she switched off her late husband’s landline in a darkly funny 2016 New York Times editorial. Shortly thereafter, she received an email from Dr. Peter Rutter, who reminded her they had a date 54 years ago that was from — who else? – Nora.

Delia said: “Part of the amazing thing about getting that first email was that he said Nora had set us up. I mean I just couldn’t believe it. It was like she was reaching down to me.”

Author and screenwriter Delia Ephron.  / Photo credit: CBS News

Author and screenwriter Delia Ephron. / Photo credit: CBS News

LaPook asked Rutter, “What was it about the Verizon article that made you contact Delia?”

“She was single!” he laughed.

“But you remembered her [after] all these years?”

“Oh, of course! Who forgets an Ephron girl?”

Soon Rutter and Ephron were one item. At the same time, Ephron’s blood tests at Weill Cornell Medicine-New York Presbyterian were periodically performed by Dr. Gail Roboz, director of Weill Cornell Medicine’s leukemia program. It was a precaution because of Nora’s leukemia.

“Every six months I went to Dr. Roboz, and she drew blood from me, and she said something like, ‘This is the most boring blood I’ve seen all day,’ and sent me away,” Ephron said.

Ephron’s findings remained dull for eight years. But then, Roboz recalled, “In March 2017, she walked in, she has a blood test, and she almost wanted to get up and leave. And checking the blood smear, something flashed at a glance, and suddenly there’s acute leukemia.”

Her reaction? “I think I wanted to run away,” she said. “The shock, I have to tell you, is a punch in the stomach for us and a punch in the stomach for the patient.”

LaPook said of Roboz’s reaction, “She said when she realized you had leukemia and she had 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).

    / Credit: Small, Brown

/ Credit: Small, Brown

Roboz said: “She goes from feeling good to this horrible news, coming into the hospital, catheter in her arm, chemotherapy. It’s absolutely amazing, sort of, 180 in life.”

But this 180 was a reason for Ephron and Rutter to take the next step. Ephron recalled, “Peter and I had breakfast on Sunday and I made French toast. And suddenly he gets up and says, ‘Will you marry me?’ I mean in the cutest… it was so cute. And I said, ‘Yes.’

“And we got married in the hospital, in the dining room on the 14th floor, with very few friends.”

Also present: Dr. LaPook, who captures everything on video.

Ephron said, “I had the hospital bracelet on my wrist and the flowers in my other hand.”

“And the wedding ring on the other!” said LaPook.

“I agree. It was such an amazing breakup. And at the same time it was just very loving.”

dr  Peter Rutter and Delia Ephron marry at Weill Cornell Medicine.  / Photo credit: Dr.  Jon LaPook

dr Peter Rutter and Delia Ephron marry at Weill Cornell Medicine. / Photo credit: Dr. Jon LaPook

With her new husband by her side, Ephron embarked on 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 because obviously it was totally irrelevant, right? But I guess in my head I wanted him to know that this is important.

She said love was what kept her going. But the transplant took its toll and she had trouble breathing. So she said to Dr. Roboz: “I just want out. I can not stand it anymore.”

Roboz said: “She called people and asked for this end-of-life conversation. So I mentally looked for a way to deal with it.”

Ephron recalled her response: “She said — it’s so brilliant — ‘Give me 48 hours, and when I get anywhere, 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 would be fine.”

Forty-eight hours later, Ephron’s breathing began to improve. Now, four years later, no test has found any evidence of leukemia… and she’s still very much in love.

“When something like this happens where everything just kind of falls into place, it’s just extraordinary,” Ephron said. “One only wonders about life.”

Peter, Delia and Charlotte.  / Photo credit: CBS News

Peter, Delia and Charlotte. / Photo credit: CBS News

For more information:

deliaephronwriter.comLeft on Tenth: A Second Chance at Life (A Memoir) by Delia Ephron (Little, Brown) in hardcover, eBook, and audio formats, available through Amazon and Indiebound Dr. Gail Roboz, Weill Cornell MedicineThe Campaign to Change Medicine (Weill Cornell Medicine)

Story produced by Amiel Weisfogel. Publisher: Carol Ross.

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