FRANKLIN, Tennessee — Nancy French opens her front door, wearing a denim skirt and tall brown boots, looking like she’s ready for a cover shoot for some trendy Western magazine. The wig, you must know, is fabulous. Shoulder length and glossy, not so different from her natural dark hair; the wig becomes her, but at great cost.

Since her husband, the New York Times columnist David French, accidentally revealed on a Zoom call that his wife was in treatment for cancer, French has chosen to be public about her diagnosis, which she’d originally planned to keep private. It turned out to be for the best, not only because of the support that she has received from friends and followers — to include wig-wearing tips from the actress Morgan Fairchild — but also because French is not one to hide demurely behind a fictional public persona.

In her new memoir, “Ghosted,” as well as on social media, French puts it all out there — her newly bald head, the dripping nose after chemotherapy, the political ostracism that came from disavowing Donald Trump, and also that time she lied to Mitt Romney, and, as a result, wound up embarrassingly entangled with him and their skis on a Deer Valley mountain.

Ever gracious, the Utah senator wrote a blurb for “Ghosted,” calling French a person of “uncommon character and integrity,” without even mentioning the fib that led to the skiing mishap.

Not everyone, however, has been so kind. One person who read the manuscript told French, “This does not reflect well on you.”

That’s because, in the book, French writes openly about her impoverished upbringing, her formerly troubled relationship with her parents and her molestation at age 12 by a Vacation Bible School teacher. Her own experience with sexual abuse adds fuel to French’s outrage over the abuse of others and led to her investigation of sex abuse allegations at Kanakuk Kamp in Branson, Missouri. It also led to her life becoming for a time, as she calls it, “a chaotic mess.”

But there is much beauty and order in that life now, in large part because of an impulsive marriage 28 years ago.


At age 20, French was a student at Lipscomb University in Nashville, a Christian school that her parents had saved for years so she could attend. Things were not going well. She was reeling from the loss of her best friend in a car crash — a death she says was foreshadowed in a dream — and also a volatile breakup that led to the suicide of her former boyfriend. At times, French thought of suicide herself; she was set on self-destruction, cheating on tests and showing up for class drunk. As one professor told her, “You’re breaking the honor code and cheating in a class about the Bible. Surely you appreciate the irony?”

Soon enough, she would leave Lipscomb as she would drop out of two other schools; to this day, she doesn’t have a college degree, and she’s not bothered by that. “I’m ambitious; I might drop out of more,” she told me, laughing.

Reading about that version of French in “Ghosted,” it’s hard to connect the dots to the Nancy French I see today, the stylish mother of three sitting across from me on the other side of her kitchen island. To the woman who has been a ghostwriter for U.S. politicians, athletes and celebrities, and for Romney’s wife, Ann. To the woman who is getting wig tips from a Hollywood actress.

This Nancy French, the daughter of parents so poor they slept in their car when it broke down because they couldn’t afford a motel, lives in a resort-style community about 20 miles from Nashville, in a house with a wide front porch and a three-car garage. This Nancy French has an interior designer, has read every Pulitzer Prize-winning novel since the year of her birth (1974) and has taught herself to paint in the style of German artist Gerhard Richter. “I’m an autodidact,” she explains, as we climb the stairs to her art studio.

The title of “Ghosted” plays off French’s ghostwriting career, but it also signals abandonment because the term, in its most trendy form, means suddenly ending a relationship. In an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Tuesday, French talked about how she was ghosted and attacked by Republicans and evangelicals, the two groups she’d always felt most at home with, because she and her husband wouldn’t support Trump. “Now we’re about as popular as head lice in the Republican Party,” she said on MSNBC.

But for French, the most defining moment of her life wasn’t about someone who left, but someone who showed up.

Nancy met David when they passed on a sidewalk on the campus of the school that he loved and she hated. David French, six years her senior, had written the honor code when he was a student at Lipscomb, then had gone to Harvard Law School, where his religious faith had been further ignited by a student fellowship that focused on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Within a week of that chance meeting on the sidewalk, David had convinced Nancy of the divinity of Jesus, using the “liar, lunatic or Lord” argument advanced by C.S. Lewis. When he prayed with her that she would receive the Holy Spirit, she heard what she experienced as the rustling of wings. “I heard a noise and the darkness that had clung to me took flight,” she writes in “Ghosted.”

Within three months, the couple were married in Paris, France, despite the misgivings of their families. It is now part of family lore that Nancy’s mother said her daughter was marrying a “rank stranger.”


As implausible as Nancy and David French’s love story sounds, some of the events in their future would seem equally farfetched. Before Nancy knew she was pregnant with her first child, a man giving prophesies at a Christian gathering told the couple they had conceived. After moving to New York, they were assigned the old phone number of rock singer David Lee Roth, and the subsequent calls from women led Nancy to suspect that her new husband was having serial affairs. Then there was that literal entanglement with Mitt Romney, which she details in “Ghosted.”

Both David and Nancy supported Romney’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012 and were active in the effort called “Evangelicals for Mitt.” It was Ann Romney who jump-started Nancy’s career as a ghostwriter by asking her to help write a memoir (that ultimately was not published). French accepted immediately despite her lack of experience and writes in “Ghosted, “I’d do anything to help voters get to know the Romneys because — in my experience — to know them was to love them.” French also worked briefly for the Romney campaign in Tennessee in 2008, and was devastated when Romney dropped out of the race.

After the campaign ended, she flew to Utah for a final meeting with other campaign workers and was preparing to return home when she got a text from Ann inviting her to visit the Romneys at their home in Deer Valley. “Are you a skier?” Ann Romney asked. “I love to ski,” French responded.

Which perhaps wasn’t technically a lie, because she’d once skied on bunny hill in seventh grade and loved it. But how difficult could skiing be, French thought to herself, justifying why she also reiterated to the senator that she’d be happy to go skiing with his family.

But she had no skiing skills, certainly not on par with the Romneys, whose ski closet was full of 2002 Winter Olympics gear. Careening down a steep hill, French lost a pole and wound up slamming into Romney, with both of them “precariously close to the edge of a cliff.”

There’s more to the story, but the ending is perfect for people who believe in grace: After everyone recovered, French writes, the Romneys accompanied her to a much smaller hill and spent the rest of the afternoon teaching her to ski. “Instead of pointing out my inadequacies, they showed me love,” she wrote.

French told me she hasn’t been on skis since.

Nancy French watches vote results displayed on a television during Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's election night rally, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, in Boston. | David Goldman

In many ways, this has been a difficult year for white evangelicals, with three books in succession showing this segment of American Christianity in an unflattering light: First, Tim Alberta’s “The Kingdom, the Power and the Glory,” then Sarah McCammon’s “The Exvangelicals,” and now “Ghosted.”

Although French’s book is not directed at the church, per se, her stories about being seduced by a Vacation Bible School leader and her investigation into allegations of sexual abuse of children at Kanakuk Kamps (which the organization says was limited to two people and was adequately dealt with, which French disputes) is not good publicity for the faith groups involved. French and her husband recently left the Presbyterian Church in America for a predominantly Black congregation, Strong Tower Bible Church, where the pastor is a former Christian rap musician.

That’s partly because their youngest daughter, adopted from Ethiopia, would feel more at home, but French told me it’s also because she was tired of being accosted at the communion table by hostile people. But, she added, “This is not my letter to the church. This is just my story.”

“After 15 years, I was just like, I can’t do that anymore. The last time a neo-Confederate confronted me, I thought, ‘I’ll go to Strong Tower.’ No church is perfect, but I doubt they’re brimming with neo-Confederates. I wanted (my daughter) to be comfortable and to be where people were not politically acrimonious,” she said, adding that one man came up to her at church and admitted that he had been harassing her on Twitter for 10 years. “And I knew who he was because he was so mean.”

Twitter, now X, became so vitriolic for the couple in the Trump years that David French stopped using the platform last year. He’s only posted there twice since last fall: first, to ask for prayer for his wife after she announced she had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, then to announce the publication of her book today.

Nancy, however, remains active on X, where she sometimes even manages to make friends of political opponents.

“I wish Nancy French’s critics knew how hard she works to actually love every critic she knows. I’ve seen multiple situations in which she’s shown far beyond mere forgiveness but has sought out a critic, not so much to change their minds about her as to help them,” Christianity Today’s Russell Moore said in an email.

David French told one such story in an essay published in The Atlantic two years ago. A woman who aggressively trolled him on social media had posted early in the pandemic that she was almost out of food and unable to get deliveries. Nancy French saw the post and reached out to the woman and found out that she lived alone and was disabled. “It took time, but within a week, Kathy’s apartment was overflowing with food, and a troll had become a friend,” David French wrote.

“She sees the common grace behind every human face and really acts on that,” Moore said.


The diagnosis came in November, after French felt a lump and called her doctor. The biopsy revealed a form of cancer called triple-negative, which the American Cancer Society says tends to have a worse prognosis than other forms of breast cancer. Her treatment has included a form of chemotherapy dubbed “the red devil” — doxorubicin — which is known for its effectiveness as well as its harsh side effects. But the side effects are also somewhat predictable, which allowed French to be feeling well enough to entertain a visitor and go out for lunch when I visited last month, and to play pickleball the next day. She has moments of feeling almost normal, she said, although then she might stand and not be able to feel her legs. Her face, she said, was swollen from the effects of various medications. And while her spirits are strong — “I intend to live,” she said on Russell Moore’s podcast last week — tears sometimes well in her blue eyes without warning. She is to start another round of chemotherapy on April 17, the day after her book’s formal release, and said she expects to be incapacitated for a week after that. “It’s unfortunate. This is not the best timing for a book launch,” she said.

And it’s not just the launch of “Ghosted.”

French is also the co-author, with Curtis Chang, of the book “The After Party: Toward Better Christian Politics,” which will be released April 23. The book is based on a program developed by Chang, David French and Russell Moore, to enable churches and small groups to help people move past partisan divides. And then there’s the art exhibit that she is planning: 30 paintings she has done with the help of YouTube tutorials — one painting for each chapter of the book, reflecting something that goes on in the chapter. (For example, one painting is of a street Nancy and David lived on in New York City.)

French rejects the idea that cancer is something she has to fight. “People are so heavily into this martial language that puts so much onus on the victim: If you die, then you lost. I think we need to retire some of this martial language when it comes to cancer.” She would prefer that people talk about cancer in way that is neither toxically positive or toxically negative, but just more realistic, and that’s what she’s doing when she posts photos of her bald head or talks about her struggles attaching false eyelashes.

“I feel like I should be more upset about this because for my entire life, I’ve written books for other people and finally I have the opportunity to do my own story, and I’m riddled with chemo stuff. But for some reason, it feels fine.” She mentions a movie she had seen in which a character was in a sports match and was having to play wounded. “And that is so right. You’re always playing wounded. You just don’t recognize it.”

“I just feel like God is in it. Whatever this is. What is that scripture? Where Paul says, ‘I did not come with eloquent words but with the demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit.’“ She tears up, but keeps talking. “That’s how I feel. I don’t feel like my words are that eloquent. What’s eloquent is that God is so creatively involved in this. That this is all catalyzed and ordered. I feel content because I believe God is in control of this.”

“Ghosted: An American Story” is published by Zondervan.