Even in the corner of a Solana Beach coffee shop, seated with his back to the room, Loren Nancarrow is somehow impossible to miss. Wearing a baseball cap to hide his scars from brain surgery, the beloved anchor man, weather guy, and organic gardener still has that endearing, slightly crooked smile, and a voice as soothing as warm milk.
“How are you doing?” asks a blonde woman, an old acquaintance who stops by the table to share some news. “My son goes in tomorrow for his last round of chemo.”
“No way,” says Nancarrow, nodding in sympathy.
But Nancarrow knows all too well what she is talking about. His own struggle with aggressive brain cancer is being played out in a very public, yet very personal way, on “The Nancarrow Project,” a blog that has received a quarter of a million hits in just eight weeks. For its legion of followers, cobalt blue, the color of healing, has become a symbol of solidarity and support. When Nancarrow painted his own nails blue for fun, posting the pictures online, hundreds of people followed suit.
Back in February, Nancarrow revealed that surgeons had removed “the Blob,” a golf ball-sized tumor from his brain, even showing before-and-after scans online. While surgeons successfully excised the tumor, Nancarrow’s ordeal isn’t over. He has just completed his first round of chemotherapy and radiation, and still faces weeks and months of treatment.
So Nancarrow is doing what he does best: communicate. He is writing about his experiences on his blog, as well as voicing them on what he calls “the quirky-way-I-view-life podcast.” Candid, unflinching, and often very funny, he is sharing his thoughts about the fight of his life. The project is an “honest look at one family’s journey” with Nancarrow’s wife Susie and three children, son Graham, an aspiring country singer, and daughters Hannah and Britta. It was Hannah, a San Diego State University grad with a degree in communications and social media, who urged her dad to start a blog about gardening just before he got sick. Little did they know that what started out as therapy for their family would become therapy for so many others — a sort of water cooler on the Web, where people post their own struggles with cancer, offer advice and consolation. “We had no idea that would happen,” says Nancarrow. “We’ve begun to sense, too, from people’s responses, that it’s cathartic.”
Nancarrow doesn’t only report on the physical effects of his disease — the loss of hair and short-term memory, limited use of his right hand, and sometimes slurred speech — but the inspirational, whether it’s the pod of rare Pacific white-sided dolphin he recently spotted close to shore, or the people he’s met in the waiting room. From the “hat lady” to the “voice box man,” they are fellow travelers on what he calls “his latest journey,” one that for him has involved exploring both Western medicine and Eastern healing. “While I hate cancer,” he says, “I’m so glad it’s given me a chance to learn from its survivors. Go team.”
Nancarrow, in turn, has inspired others by dealing with illness in such a forthright, open way that somehow, people are less anxious and afraid. If Nancarrow can deal with cancer with humor, grace, and compassion, then, perhaps, so can they.
For Nancarrow, life is fuller than ever: “Time speeds by because there are suddenly so many things we want to do now that we are aware of a possible expiration date.” That “to do” list is growing longer. “I don’t want to miss another sunset, another milestone in my kids’ lives,” he writes. “I want to see my boy’s name up in lights and see both my girls achieve all that they dream.”
Nancarrow, whose doctor has given him one-to-three years to live, says he actually likes knowing the statistical odds. “I appreciate the sense of urgency it provides,” he says. “It reminds me that there’s a lot of life left to live.” While he hopes to return to the anchor desk at Fox5, Nancarrow is also planning road trips with Susie (dubbed “Suru,” after “guru” because she’s so Zen-like). They’ll be heading to Big Sur and Puget Sound in a tricked out motor home (with Vespas on the back), Nancarrow’s next project could be a bonsai, a miniature tree that takes years of planning. “I fully intend,” he says, “to live to see my gardens grow.” (www.thenancarrowproject.com) Andrea Naversen