By Joe Tash
Soon after he was diagnosed with brain cancer in February, longtime television journalist Loren Nancarrow called his friend and former colleague, Susan Taylor, to talk about launching a project to thank the people caring for him at Scripps Health and to help other cancer patients. Nancarrow is an avid gardener who worked as a weatherman and news anchor during a 30-year career in San Diego.
“I just immediately thought of the rooftop healing garden at Scripps’ new radiation center on Torrey Pines Mesa,” said Taylor, now executive director of external affairs for Scripps Health. “I presented this to Loren and he said, ‘Perfect, let’s run with it.”
So, in November, working with Nancarrow’s family, Taylor launched a campaign to raise $500,000 to dedicate the rooftop green space as the “Loren Nancarrow Healing Garden.” The money will be used by Scripps Health to build facilities and care for patients.
As of Dec. 9, $38,000 had been raised, and the effort is ongoing. Nancarrow’s wife, Susie, a real estate broker, and daughter, Hannah, have given print and broadcast interviews promoting the project, and they’ve also produced a video that can be seen on TheNancarrowProject.com, the family’s blog.
Nancarrow was in the hospital this week as Susie and Hannah Nancarrow and Taylor met with this newspaper. He has undergone four operations and also had radiation and chemotherapy treatment. He has opted not to have any additional treatments, his wife said.
Naming the healing garden after her husband is the perfect way to celebrate his achievements, because he has always had a green thumb throughout the couple’s 30-year marriage, Susie said. Nancarrow kept a compost pile at their homes in Olivenhain and Rancho Santa Fe — they now live in Solana Beach — and grew an organic garden. He even raised turkeys and chickens to provide meat to family and friends.
The cancer diagnosis hit suddenly, she said. Nancarrow’s last TV job was as anchor on the Fox 5 news. In January, he did a Friday night broadcast, then suffered a health crisis on the following Sunday, when he dropped a bag of groceries after returning from the store, then was unable to speak. He was rushed to the emergency room, where a scan revealed the tumor.
Nancarrow has maintained a positive outlook throughout the ordeal of treatment, blogging about his experiences with Hannah’s help.
“He’s mentally all there. Physically he’s altered,” Susie said.
Voice breaking, she recalled that he recently told her, “’Since you’re the one who’s going to be left behind, I want you to be sure you finish what we’ve started, a beautiful family and other wonderful things.’ I’ve got some big shoes to fill and I’m going to do it,” she said.
The couple has three children: Graham, 25, Hannah, 23, and Britta, 20. Graham works with his mother’s real estate business, Hannah started a social media marketing firm, and Britta works at a restaurant and attends college.
Over his career, Nancarrow worked at ABC 10 News, CBS 8 News and Fox 5. He’s educated and entertained viewers and readers with his gardening tips and environmental reporting, and come up with a recipe for preserving Christmas trees that includes bleach and Karo syrup. Among the four books he’s authored on organic gardening is “Dead Snails Leave No Trails.”
Hannah said her father possesses an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge about gardening and environmental issues, and the blog is a “powerful tool” to preserve and share that information. Because it’s become difficult for her father to type, she takes dictation for his weekly blog posts, which now have nearly 17,000 followers.
A recent graduate of SDSU, Hannah said putting out the blog was a natural for her because of her background in social media.
“To be able to do it for my own father was the ultimate gig,” she said.
The healing garden atop the radiation therapy center is intended as a place where patients and their families can go to relax before or after treatment.
“We hope this will be a tribute and legacy of all (Loren) has contributed to San Diego over the past 30 years,” said Taylor. “It’s so in keeping with the person he is.”
For more information, or to donate to the naming campaign, visit www.scripps.org/loren