Nora Ephron Hid Cancer For Six Years To Keep Working In Hollywood, Son Says

nora ephron son essay

Nora Ephron’s son Jacob Bernstein has written a touching tribute to his mother, who died of cancer in 2012, which will be published Sunday — and in it, he reveals Ephron was secretive about her illness so she could continue working in Hollywood.

Bernstein’s essay about his mother is titled, “Nora Ephron’s Final Act.” Forthcoming in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times magazine, it tells of Ephron’s fears for her career as she faced the deadly disease that would ultimately claim her life.

In the piece, Bernstein describes a difficult choice for Ephron as she struggled with both her health and concerns for how the cancer fight would impact her career. He says that several times, the screenwriter would consider “coming clean.” But he explains:

” … she knew the effect it could have on her career. Certainly, she could continue writing books and essays. But getting a movie made would be impossible, because no insurance company would sign off on it. Arguably, she could do a play, but bringing it to Broadway would be difficult, given that the development process takes years. Beyond that, what my mother didn’t want was to have her illness define her, turning every conversation into a series of ‘how are you?’s. ”

And when Bernstein discovered his mother was suffering from pre-leukemia, or myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), and ultimately leukemia itself, he recalls Ephron telling him she was “having a little health crisis … [that’s] how she put it when she called … shortly before Memorial Day weekend.”

Bernstein writes:

“I dropped everything, got into a cab and headed up to see her at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. While I was en route, the phone rang; it was Max, who told me that Mom’s MDS had turned into leukemia. I think I already knew, even though I hadn’t asked her for specifics. For six months, Mom’s blasts — the bad guys that make it difficult for people with MDS and leukemia to produce healthy platelets and white blood cells — had been creeping back up, indicating that she was developing a resistance to her medication. Now she would need a brutal form of chemotherapy if she hoped to survive.”

nora ephron dies

As Ephron’s son recalls the fear his mother felt quietly, he describes her crying in her hospital room, saying she “cried a lot that first night, and then, the next day, she cried some more because she was certain Christopher Hitchens had done no such thing, and she was devastated at the thought that she might not be as brave as him about death.”

Bernstein’s entire essay on Nora Ephron’s illness and last days is heartbreaking and worth a read — you can view it at the link above, before its print publication.