The Star of The Nanny is Turning Pain into Purpose
Fran Drescher was diagnosed with uterine cancer in June 2000—she beat it. But that wasn’t enough for this actress, best known for her role as Fran Fine in the hit television show The Nanny.
In 2007, Fran launched the Cancer Schmancer Movement, a non-profit organization dedicated to saving lives through the prevention and early detection of cancer. She recently spoke to MyHealth about her story and her passion to help beat cancer.
How did you find out you had uterine cancer?
Fran: It took me 2 years and 8 doctors to get a proper diagnosis. I got in the stirrups more times than Roy Rogers. I was told that I was too young to have uterine cancer. That I was too thin, even that I had been eating too much spinach! I was prescribed hormones to treat the symptoms, but my doctors didn’t order the proper diagnostic tests. At the time, I didn’t know to ask why or why not because I was just happy to be too young for something. Finally after an endometrial biopsy, my greatest fear was confirmed. I had cancer.
What was your reaction to the news?
Fran: At the time, I thought my days were numbered.
I was frightened. I felt betrayed. By my own body. By the medical community. I was in a complete state of shock. Was I going to die? How could this have been going on for so long undiagnosed? No one else said I had cancer. I’d had blood tests, ultrasounds of my uterus. I just wanted to know why. Later I learned that the early warnings signs of uterine cancer mimic many other diseases.
What was your treatment and how are you doing today?
Fran: I had a radical hysterectomy, which is hard enough for any woman, but especially difficult for someone like me who hadn’t yet had children. Fortunately, because I was still in Stage 1, I didn’t require any post-operative treatment. I’m now 14 years well.
What have you learned from the experience?
Fran: First, to be an active participant in my own health — what I call a “medical consumer.” We need to take control of our own health. Use the Internet. Demand a level of attention and support. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get second, third opinions.
What was your motivation for creating Cancer Schmancer?
Fran: Writing the book Cancer Schmancer was a way to make sense of everything that happened. It was a catharsis for me.
I was very bitter. It took me four drafts before I could go from angry to funny. Then when I went on my book tour, I realized what happened to me had happened to millions of people. But too many people were being diagnosed in the later stages. Cancer is 90% curable in Stage 1, and if everyone caught it early, almost everyone would live. So there was this army of foot soldiers ready to share this message. All they needed was a Moonie to lead them. Me. (above) Happily Divorced set with Charles Shaughnessy, her co-star on The Nanny.
Why are you so passionate about educating women about cancer?
Fran: Because women tend to be the caretakers in the family, and we often put our own health behind that of others. But who’s going to take care of your family if you’re not around?
Why is education so important?
Fran: Two things. Cancer is 90% curable if caught early, like I said earlier. Second, only 10% of cancers are genetic. If people realized how much control they have over preventing cancer and in curing it when they catch it early, cancer would be much less prevalent. Knowing those two facts is empowering, and that’s our core message. We’ve made it really easy by curating all of this information on our website at cancerschmancer.org.
Any final thoughts?
Fran: I’ve learned that sometimes the best gifts come in the ugliest packages. My experience has definitely made me a better version of myself, and I keep trying to get even better. So no matter what cross life gives you to bear, find a way to become something better than you were before. Whether it’s how you relate to your family or how compassionate you are as a human being. Turning pain into purpose and lemons into lemonade is very healing.