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TV’s Nancy O’Dell: Mother, Author, Health Advocate

Nancy O’Dell talks about her new book, her baby, and the loss of her mother to Lou Gehrig’s disease.
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WebMD the Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

In her new book, Full of Life, Access Hollywood co-host Nancy O’Dell writes of being a high-profile television star while nursing her new baby, Ashby, and caring for her mother, who developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a progressive and fatal neuromuscular disorder also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. O’Dell recently talked to WebMD Magazine about her experience juggling all three roles -- plus her stint on Dancing with the Stars.

How did you cope with your mother’s initial diagnosis in October 2007?

It was Nov. 1, 2007. I won’t ever forget that horrible date. It was tough. Most people with ALS live for three to five years after diagnosis. In my mom’s case, it was less than a year. She was misdiagnosed for a year and half. She had lost her voice so at first we thought it was a cold. Doctors said it was everything from acid reflux to Parkinson’s disease. Several doctors said it was just old age, but she was 73 and we knew it wasn’t old age. I know a lot of 90-year olds who still have their voices.

Once she was diagnosed, how did you help keep your mother’s spirits up?

I just kept telling her that I needed her and that my daughter Ashby, who was born in June 2007, needed her. I told her she had to fight with everything she had. It was a huge blessing that she got to meet Ashby and I know that Ashby now has an angel looking out for her. I did get to say a long goodbye to her. Some people don’t have that opportunity.

How did you find time to care for yourself when caring for your mom?

Other than eating healthy and doing other simple things, I didn’t have a lot of time for exercise. I wanted to spend all of my extra energy on my mom when she was trying to fight ALS. I went back to South Carolina every other week to visit her. I spent every spare moment I had doing research and trying to stay ahead of the disease -- which is all you can do with ALS.

You’re working with the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s ALS division. What are you doing for them?

Anything they want me to do. They were there from day one when my mom got diagnosed. A representative walked into the office and said “we will be here every step of the way.” They helped us find equipment and directed us to the expert in whatever issues my mom was having. Now I need to do whatever I can to help them.

It must be hard to be a mom without having yours to lean on. What do you miss the most?

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