Nancy Fisher

Alcor Member Profile
From Cryonics March-April 2018
On the cover: Nancy Fisher stands triumphant on a skywalk in Krasnaya Polyana, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.

By Nicole Weinstock

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It’s no surprise that Nancy Fisher’s favorite book is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. After all, if you’ve already travelled to more than 50% of the countries on Earth, you may eventually need some intergalactic destinations to keep that passport fresh. From the five “Stans” of Central Asia to the Dolomites of Italy, from a music festival in Timbuktu to the Taj Mahal to Pakistan’s Hunza Valley, Nancy’s wanderlust has led her to some of the most remote villages, breathtaking landscapes, and architectural marvels of the world.


Nancy hiked 2,700 feet in altitude to the most famous temple in Bhutan, known as Taktsang or “Tiger’s Nest” Monastery.

“I tend to be one of those people who walks into a place and says hi, and hands out food and drink. I can work a room pretty easily.” Her social spirit and adventurous nature are just a couple of the qualities that make her a welcome guest at dinner tables on all continents. And as a cryonicist of nearly 25 years, she hopes the future will expand the diversity of her experiences.

“Who knows what changes the future will bring?” Nancy says. “But I’d like to think I’m up for them.”

Blackberries and books

Though she’s not one to dwell on the past, it’s clear that many of Nancy’s salient characteristics were formed in youth. Born and raised in the metropolis of New York, she grew up with a loving family that supported the fruition of her full potential.

“My parents always expected me to work hard, to have a good education and a rewarding profession, and to do interesting, worthwhile things with my life.... There was no lowering of expectations because I was a girl.”

While the school year was urban in context, Nancy spent memorable summers exploring the Catskills and Adirondacks of rural New York with her father. “He was a smart, gentle, truly good person who never lost his sense of the wonder of life or his appreciation of nature. He took pleasure in simple things like beautiful sunsets, and finding wild blackberries by the side of the road.” He also inspired her to stay healthy. “He believed it was important to respect your body, to be proactive about your physical well-being. And no smoking of course, and alcohol only in moderation.” These days, many of Nancy’s trips, including the one to Bhutan from which she recently returned, are oriented towards hiking. “I like getting into places that you can’t get to any other way than on your own two feet.” She’s also a devoted gym-goer. “I do most of my reading on the Stairmaster,” she admits.

Nancy’s creativity emerged at a young age as well. She participated in summer stock—theatre staged during the summers by resident companies in exurban locations—in her late teens, developing acting and production skills that later would be useful in her careers in advertising and television. She was also a natural when it came to writing. “I don’t remember not writing. Making up poems or writing little stories or plays. I just sort of always wrote. And I always read. I never studied writing; I learned to write by reading.”

Years later, Nancy is now a published author of Penguin USA, and still a devoted reader. Her recent picks include A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman’s narrative of an old curmudgeon and the unexpected friendship he develops with new neighbors, Yes, Chef: A Memoir, by the award-winning chef and cookbook author, Marcus Samuelson, and Eastern Approaches, Fitzroy Maclean’s classic 1949 account of his exploits as a British diplomat in Moscow, his travels in Central Asia, and his service with the newly minted OSS in North Africa and Yugoslavia before and during World War II. But nothing beats Douglas Adams’s masterpiece and Nancy’s self-admitted bible, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “I’m ready to go!” she says with enthusiasm.

From advertising to television to medical thrillers

After college, Nancy landed a job as a copywriter at a New York advertising agency. She then added “producer” to her title, and later became a creative director, moving to London and back to New York along the way.

Eventually, she started her own creative consultancy, which garnered the attention of Campbell Soup Company. Campbell invited her to pitch ideas for a national cable television program they planned to sponsor. Soon thereafter emerged WomanWatch, her 48-half-hours TV series featuring on-location action profiles of nearly 150 women engaged in recordbreaking, boundary-pushing, and generally unique pursuits, including the first female general of NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command, responsible for identifying aerospace and maritime threats); a member of the first women’s ascent of Annapurna; an inner city school superintendent; a Texas cattle rancher; and the first woman to walk in space. Once WomanWatch was up and running, Campbell asked Nancy to create a cooking show for them, and Celebrity Chefs, her 48-half-hours TV cooking series, hosted by Robert Morley, was born. It featured a host of celebrities including Eartha Kitt, Helen Hayes, Regis Philbin, Lynn Redgrave, Merv Griffin, Phylicia Rashad, and Tony Randall. Along the way, she also directed and produced infomercials, and home and corporate videos.

But Nancy found herself returning to a long-time aspiration: writing a novel. “I’ve always been interested in medicine and I’ve always been interested in science fiction, and you put the two together and you get medical thrillers.” Penguin USA published her first medical thriller, Vital Parts in 1993, followed by Side Effects (1995), Special Treatment (1996), Code Red (1997), and Code Blue (2000).

When drafting her books, Nancy sometimes consulted with medical experts, including her brother, a surgeon in Minneapolis, about technical aspects of the story. “But the story is primary, the story always comes first. What you want is a basic reality check. But you always have to push the envelope.” She recalls talking to a surgeon who did facial reconstructions of people who’d been injured. “I explained that a part of the story I was working on—a very small part—was a face transplant. And he said, ‘Oh, no, that could never happen.’ And I included it in the book anyway, and it’s happening now.”

Being a novelist was isolating work, and when an opportunity arose to return to the corporate world as director of communications for a mid-sized financial services company, Nancy jumped on it. “The corporate job was great because, in addition to interacting with lots of people, I got to create the department from scratch, and to use all the various skills I’d acquired over the years. I had a great time.”

Another bite from the travel bug

Nancy never forgot her love of travel, and when she got the chance, she went back to exploring the world. “I’ve been to more than 100 countries so far,” she says, “and counting!” Over the next 10 months, she plans to be in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, the Balkans, Peru, Bolivia, Namibia, Afghanistan, Oman, and Iran, with a trip to see family in London tucked in for good measure.

Apart from feeding the wayfarer within, Nancy finds that travelling is a way of making connections with people and cultures one wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to experience. “Being welcomed and hugged by Muslim women when visiting holy sites in Uzbekistan... Dancing with the locals late at night in a small social club in Dagestan.... Being treated with respect and warmth in the mosh pit at a musical festival in the desert outside Timbuktu.... These are the things you remember,” she says.


Other tourists pose with Nancy in front of Registan (meaning “Place of Sand”) in Central Asia’s most noble square, located in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.


A friendly local enthused by Americans, asked to take a picture with Nancy during her stay in Khiva, an ancient Silk Road oasis in Uzbekistan.


Travelling through the mountains of the Republic of Dagestan, a region that is generally considered a “no-go tourist zone,” but in which Nancy encountered great local hospitality.


Ever the adventurer, Nancy explores ruins in Merv, Turkmenistan, a major oasis city on the historical Silk Road.


In Sükhbaatar Square, the main square of Ulan Bator, Mongolia’s capital. Behind Nancy is the Government Palace and a monument dedicated to Genghis Khan.


Nancy poses in a hollowed-out tree supporting the roof of a remote beachside cafe in North Caucasus.


In Baltistan, Nancy stands with members of Pakistan’s Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS). They were assigned to her tour group for their travels through Northern Pakistan in 2014.

She tells the story of an incident during a trip to Mali, when her guide took her small group on a walk through an open-air market in Bamako, the country’s capital. Despite being explicitly told not to take photos of the women vending their wares, one person persisted, resulting in angry yelling, and a very hasty departure.

“I said to the guide, ‘I’ve never felt that kind of hostility anywhere in this country. What were they saying?’” ‘They said,’ he explained, “‘The market is dirty and we have no water to wash with, but the tourists will take our photos home and show them to their friends and they will think we are a dirty people. And we are not a dirty people!’” It actually brought tears to my eyes. It’s so human and so reasonable, but it’s not what you would have thought they were saying if you hadn’t asked.”

Nancy adds, “Most Americans don’t travel very much.... And as a result, we have no idea how lucky we are. We turn on our faucets and clean water comes out. Right there, we’re ahead of a huge percentage of the world’s population, but we tend not to understand that because we don’t get out of our comfort zones and go see it.”

The future and beyond

Not everyone can muster the same equanimity in the face of the unexpected, the unknown, and the initially strange. But Nancy’s commitment to meandering in and out of the places and spaces of this world sans judgment—but with a lively sense of humor—has served her well...and undoubtedly prepared her for the great future beyond.

That future, a subject that is near and dear to cryonicists, has the potential to take many forms. And so do the methods of getting there. In Nancy’s case, she is enthusiastic about the possibility of head transplants, brain downloads, and robotics. She’s also excited about space travel. “I would love to take those ‘hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy’ trips—in my own body or a shipboard computer or as a robot. Any way you can get me there would be fine with me. Just sign me up!”

She continues to be surprised when people say they don’t want to live forever, or don’t want to be “brought back” after death. Living forever has appealed to her since childhood. “It’s a no-brainer,” she says. “Why wouldn’t you, if you could?” And cryonics seemed like the way to go ever since she first read about it in Ed Regis’s 1991 book, Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Experience. She immediately contacted Alcor and became a member. “As soon as I read about it, I knew it was something I wanted to do. I figured, ‘What the heck? If it doesn’t work, I’m no worse off than if I didn’t give it a shot.’ My brother and my daughter sort of humor me when it comes to cryonics, but they’re supportive of whatever I want to do.”

Nancy is part of the New York cryonics group recently created under the auspices of Alcor. They meet regularly to discuss relevant topics, concerns, and needs, and to formulate action plans. She hopes the future will see increased funding and research, the development of improved response protocols, and more options for preservation and resuscitation. She also plans to participate in efforts to create better infrastructure in her hometown. “The timeframe for getting assistance to somebody who has just died is really short wherever you live, and New York presents an especially tough challenge for cryonicists,” she says. Among other things, the New York cryonics group is working on developing a local Alcor rapid response team provisioned with the proper standby equipment, as well as a network of supportive on-call funeral directors.

Perhaps it’s all the traveling she does, or the many different “lives” she has already lived that make her so adaptable. “My nominal home is New York,” she says, “but my actual home is inside me.” She continues, “I consider myself a centered person. Positive, enthusiastic, flexible... I remember once saying to somebody, I feel like I have a loose soul. I could live different lives, I could live in different places, different bodies. I could come back again and again and be different people, do different things. But I’d still carry with me the person I am inside.” Through cryonics, she just might get that chance.

To read about some of the different lives and stories from Nancy’s imagination, visit www.nancy-fisher.com for a short synopsis of each of her medical thrillers. Want more? You can purchase any and all of them on Amazon.

 

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