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Cancer Care

Fran Drescher, Star of “The Nanny,” Fights Cancer With Humor

When Fran Drescher was diagnosed with uterine cancer, it took two years to get a proper diagnosis. “I was technically too young and too thin to get uterine cancer,” Drescher said. “Three out of 4 women with uterine cancer are post-menopausal or obese, and since I was neither, nobody thought to rule it out, even though 25 percent of the women that get it are young and thin.”

If she knew then what she knows now, she would have insisted on an endometrial biopsy to rule out uterine cancer. “Turns out it’s a two-minute, in-office test,” she said. “It should have been done.”

Early detection

Since her diagnosis, Drescher, the star of the upcoming NBC series “Indebted,” wrote the New York Times bestseller “Cancer Schmancer” and began a nonprofit of the same name. “I got famous, I got cancer, and I lived to talk about it,” she said. “I started the Cancer Schmancer movement to empower people to transform from patients into medical consumers, to recognize the early warning whispers of the cancers that may affect them, and to know the tests that are available, because all too often they’re not even on the menu at the doctor’s office.”

When Drescher began her organization, she was focused primarily on early detection. “When I went on my book tour, I realized that what had happened to me had happened to many people by means of mistreatment and misdiagnosis,” she said. “Early detection became the cornerstone because that was something that needed to change – for patients to be diagnosed in stage one when it’s most curable.”

Preventing cancer

As the movement grew, its aims began to expand, encompassing research and lobbying for the prevention of cancers. “I began to learn a lot more, and I realized that 95 percent of all disease is environmentally stimulated,” she said. Cancer Schmancer now runs a program called Detox Your Home, which encourages people to host parties and get rid of toxic cleaning products and processed foods. “Let’s not get cancer in the first place, how’s that for an idea,” Drescher said.

Drescher and the Cancer Schmancer team were instrumental in passing the Gynecologic Cancer Education and Awareness Act. “By unanimous consent,” she added, “which means all 100 senators said yes.” And Drescher shows no signs of slowing down her lobbying in Washington to see further legislation for improved health. “I would like to see an end to industrial farming,” she said. “I think that we are what we eat, and we are what we’re eating is eating. I don’t really think there’s a place for toxic chemicals in our food supply.”

Family matters

Going through a cancer diagnosis can be a difficult experience, not only for the patient, but also for their family and friends. “Family is very important,” Drescher said. “You’ve got to get a posse of really strong, level-headed people. Never go to the doctor by yourself. Have somebody there with a pen and a pad, and before you go into the doctor, think of a lot of questions. Write the questions down and then have the person in the examining room with you, talking to the doctor, writing down everything. Force that doctor to focus on you and satisfy your questions.”

This is one of Drescher’s main messages – to encourage people to be more proactive when it comes to dealing with health professionals. “I didn’t agree with a lot of the stuff my doctor said, and I went to very good doctors, but they tend to be bludgeoned by big business health insurance to go the least expensive route of diagnostic testing. Most of them subscribe to the philosophy that if you hear hooves galloping, don’t look for zebra, it’s probably a horse. And I happened to be a zebra.”

Given her success as a comedian, Drescher understands the importance of seeing the positive side during times of stress and grief. “One of the most important things is that it’s a slice of the pie, it’s not the whole pie,” she said. “When you’re in the depths of despair, it’s hard to see the tiny miracles that are all around you. It’s hard to believe – though this is the absolute truth – that side-by-side with grief lies joy.”

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