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Time to Get Busy

When Nancy Davis was diagnosed with MS, she got to work lining up funding and coordinating research--in hopes of finding a cure.


The day Nancy Davis was told she had multiple sclerosis, she didn't feel like a lucky girl.

"You're a lucky girl," she heard the doctor saying, as she sat in his office in Santa Monica, fighting back tears. What on Earth was he talking about? she wondered.

He was pointing at her charcoal-colored X-rays, tracing circles around the cloud-like spots on her brain and spinal cord that were causing her hands to go numb and her vision to blur. A neurologist, he must often tell patients they have brain tumors, that the cancer growing in their heads will soon kill them. So, in a relative sense, the pretty blond, gray-eyed 33-year-old woman sitting in his office that 1991 morning was fortunate. She only had a degenerative disease of the central nervous system that progresses at widely varying rates in different people.

"What do I do now?" she asked.

It was one of a volley of questions she wanted to fire at him, including the most frightening, and unanswerable one: Will I spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair?

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 20, 1999 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Web site--In a story Tuesday about Nancy Davis' Rock to Erase MS charity fund-raiser, the Web address for more information was wrong. The correct address is

"Go home and go to bed. Watch TV," the doctor replied.

"For how long? Till the numbness goes away?"

"Just go home and lie down. Take it easy."

The doctor was talking to the wrong lucky woman. Perhaps he was thinking that since she was the daughter of real estate and oil tycoon Marvin Davis, who, with a net worth of $2.7 billion, ranks 55th on the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans, she could go home to her Bel-Air haven and be waited on. Servants would look after her three growing sons. One of the maids would bring fresh flowers into her room every day. If a battery in the remote control needed to be replaced, it wouldn't be Davis' problem.

Some other poor little rich girl might have accepted the part of pampered patient. Davis chose the role of MS advocate and activist instead. In the eight years since she was diagnosed, she doggedly tracked down information about the disease, worked to make the latest findings available to doctors and patients, established a foundation to raise funds for research, personally directed the fund-raising efforts of the Nancy Davis Center Without Walls, made sure money wasn't wasted feeding a greedy bureaucracy, and directly and creatively involved herself in decisions on how hard-won dollars were spent.

Weekend Fund-Raiser

in Las Vegas

The sixth annual Rock to Erase MS weekend at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on Friday and Saturday will be the largest and most star-studded event her organization has mounted. Guests will pay $2,500 each to stay at the newly expanded hotel, attend parties, be entertained by Hootie and the Blowfish, the Goo Goo Dolls, Cheap Trick and comedian-actor David Spade, see a Tommy Hilfiger fashion show and participate in a 5-kilometer run and walk.

For many in the group, the highlight of the weekend won't be fabulous buffets or seats at invitation-only concerts. It will be learning that the three drugs now improving the lives of thousands of MS patients weren't available just five years ago and that the scientists who developed them believe they are close to another breakthrough.

Davis will be rocking and high rolling with supporters of her cause partially because she didn't listen to her first doctor.

"If I had gone to bed when he told me to and stayed there for the rest of my life, my muscles would have atrophied; I would have felt sick all the time; I would be depressed," she said. "Eventually, I wouldn't be able to walk anymore." Her informed disobedience deserves some credit for the fact that Davis has been symptom-free for almost two years.

"When I learned I had MS, I wasn't in a great marriage, and I worried if anything happened to me, who would take care of my three kids?"

A year later, she divorced her husband.

"It was the best thing I could have done for my health," she said. Six weeks later, she met investment banker Ken Rickel in Aspen, Colo. They married in 1994.

After her diagnosis, she sought a second medical opinion, and a third, and a fourth and a 10th. Initially, she was hoping to find a doctor who would tell her the diagnosis was a mistake. If that wasn't to be, at least she would get an education.

The MS specialists she met all confirmed her diagnosis, but they weren't as defeatist as the doctor who first made it. They told her there were things she could do to manage her disease and improve her prognosis. When Davis wasn't pumping physicians for information, she searched medical libraries for current research.

"I was scared," Davis said. "I didn't know what MS was going to do to me or what the ramifications were of living with MS. I felt better when I understood more of what was going on. I'm not the type to stay depressed about anything. It's not my way."

Following in Her

Mother's Footsteps

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