When the inventor of the Walking, Talking Elmo doll, John Frank, learned he had colon cancer just seven months after marrying the love of his life, the 59-year-old was devastated. His wife, Nancy Rupert, said, “He was an athlete, ‘Mr. Healthy Guy,’ so it really did a number on his self-esteem—as well as his body. “
The newlyweds couldn’t believe they had waited all their lives to find each other, and now cancer threatened to separate them so quickly. A second marriage for both, they had met on Match.com when Nancy was 53 and John, 58. Nancy said, “We fell madly in love.”
Faced with this life-threatening news, the Connecticut couple went shopping for a book that would convey, in laymen’s terms, how to cope with cancer—but couldn’t find one to their liking. “So,” Nancy said, “John decided to write one himself.”
And write it he did—well, at least a manuscript. He was primarily known as the illustrator and geophysicist who invented the inside mechanism of the Walking, Talking Elmo doll, winning him the Mattel Invention Award in 1998. But now, with Nancy at his side, John used his talents to honestly and accurately record his immediate thoughts as they faced his cancer together.
Formerly working in the medical field as an Army surgeon’s assistant during the Vietnam War, John now faced life’s hardest lessons as the patient. He begins his story:
I’m perched upon an examination table in a small, windowless exam room decorated with a framed seaside print and a short magazine stack that I imagine hardly ever gets touched. Who searches Good Housekeeping for recipes while awaiting the kind of news that gets delivered here?
“Brownies to Die For?” “Death by Chocolate?” No, thanks.
My wife Nancy sits to my side…we have to lean and stretch to hold hands...Her touch somehow helps to soften what I expect. She’s with me, her grip says, though I am really on my own…
His journey though chemotherapy is soul-baring and sprinkled with laugh-out-loud moments. All the while, you are treated to his memories as a Jewish kid growing up on Long Island in a dysfunctional family.
John concludes his story with insights gained from inside the “snow globe,” the foggy place where all cancer patients go when undergoing chemotherapy. He wrote, “I will be my own advocate, researching. But I will also be more appreciative, and more loving. Nancy, my ever-optimistic lifter-of-spirits, becomes an increasing joy to me with every next day...I feel blessed, and want her to know it…”
Nancy, a teacher and an actress, says she’s not a writer, but she very eloquently takes us to John’s deathbed in the epilogue. After two more rounds of chemotherapy were tried with different chemical cocktails, John was put in touch with a hospice nurse and sent home to die. In less than two weeks, he was gone, passing away on May 13, 2007, at the age of 60.
Nancy writes, “When John died, I was there looking into his eyes and assuring him I would be alright.” Before his body was removed, family and friends gathered around the couple’s bed. “We smiled and told stories and laughed at John’s past antics, and as we spoke, a smile came to John’s now relaxed face.”
Although Nancy’s friends were concerned about her sleeping in the bed where John drew his last breath, Nancy said,” I knew if I didn’t sleep there it would be all the more difficult returning to it later on. It was a long, lonely night, but I was happy in an acquiescent and tranquil sort of way, knowing that John was with God, no longer in pain. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would see him again. The thought brought me great consolation, comfort and joy.”
At John’s funeral, Nancy displayed his art work, inventions including Walking, Talking Elmo, and other memorabilia, so that everyone would see the many facets of his life. But Nancy had one more facet of John she wanted to share. “I knew I had to get his book, his last legacy, into print and out to the public. Not only would it encourage those struggling with cancer, but it would also showcase his undiscovered wit and writing talent … but where to begin?”
Nancy believes God showed her the way—through friends, family, and strangers who cared. “It was really quite remarkable! Those people, those puzzle pieces, neatly fit one after another until I was holding John’s finished book, View From the Snow Globe: A Journey in Cancer and Chemo, in my hands.
The process from manuscript to book began when Nancy was invited to attend a Southeastern Connecticut Association of Publishers and Authors meeting. The speaker was a publisher whose humor and enthusiasm made her realize he was just right to handle John’s manuscript. The publisher, in turn, suggested his editor of choice for John’s book—a man who not only “got” John’s humor, but was also raised on Long Island. Oddly enough, his name was also John. Nancy said, “I immediately saw a kindred spirit between my John and this new John.”
The “new John,” John W. Geida, stated, “Although never having met or spoken with John, I consider him to be a close friend. A bond developed between us due to his humor, skillful narrative, and the courageous, optimistic attitude he exhibited in playing the cards he’d been dealt.”
Nancy knew exactly where to go for the cover design—to her “insanely talented friend,” Scott Gordley. “He and John were best friends and shared the same zany creativity both in art and in the literary world. He used John’s own paints to design the cover. I feel he definitely nailed the concept to a tee!”
Nancy believes her husband’s book has something for everyone. “Anyone who is facing a physical challenge will find solace and encouragement by reading it. John’s story is also a ‘faith walk.’ He went from being a non-practicing Jew to becoming a baptized Christian at the age of 57. And of course, it’s a love story.”
Six months after John’s death, a pink and gray stone was placed on his grave with this inscription:
John H. Frank
Writer, Artist, Toy Inventor, Loving Husband and Friend
Anyone who reads John’s book will also become his friend—and Nancy’s.
For more information about Nancy, John, or their book, visit: www.viewfromthesnowglobe.com