TURNING PAIN INTO PURPOSE WHILE LAUGHING OUT LOUD
After Fran Drescher made her entree into film with a bit part as a dancer in “Saturday Night Fever” in 1977, the wonderful world of Hollywood continued to stay wide open as her oyster, and the talented actress went on to score roles in films such as “The Hollywood Knights,” “Doctor Detroit” and “This is Spinal Tap.” In “The Nanny,” the popular show she created in 1993 with then husband Peter Marc Jacobson, Drescher was propelled to stardom with her memorable role as Fran Fine, the witty nanny with the undeniable Queens accent who charmed her way right into the hearts of TV-watching Americans. During the run of “The Nanny” through 1999, Drescher was nominated for two Emmy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards, and went on to work more in film and television on projects such as “Picking up the Pieces” in 2000 co-starring Woody Allen, “Living with Fran” in 2005 and voicing Pearl in “Shark Bait” in 2006.
Today, Drescher is happily engaged in the second season of TV Land’s “Happily Divorced” as the show’s creator, executive producer and star. The peppy sitcom about Fran Lovett, an L.A. florist who discovers after almost 20 years of marriage that her husband Peter (played by John Michael Higgins) is gay, is actually inspired by Drescher’s real life experience with Jacobson, who also created and executive produces the show and remains good friends with Drescher in spite of their divorce. In addition to her active career, Drescher, a survivor of uterine cancer, fiercely commits herself to saving lives by promoting the prevention and early detection of cancer as the president and visionary of the “Cancer Schmancer Movement” and through “Trash Cancer” parties, which teach people how to detoxify their environments and reduce the risk of cancer by nixing the toxins found in everyday items around the home. In fact, Drescher, a Democrat, was appointed as a US diplomat in 2008 under President George W. Bush’s administration, gaining the official title of Public Diplomacy Envoy for Women’s Health Issues, an honor she embraces seriously, helping women around the world take charge of their health.
Hey Fran! Happy New Year and how are you?
I’m well! Thank you and happy New Year to you! How are you guys doing over there in New Orleans?
We’re doing great, just looking forward to a fabulous new year! So you are a uterine cancer survivor, and you have not rested on your laurels when it comes to being active, vocal and successful with turning pain into purpose and progress, so thanks so much for the inspiration.
Thank you, Christine. That’s the thing: pain is pain and everybody is faced with some challenges. It’s very important to try and make sense out of the senseless, and we need to try to turn pain into purpose, which is a life lesson that I’ve learned.
You are the president and visionary of the Cancer Schmancer Movement. Please tell us all about it and about the Trash Cancer parties because they sound like perfect ideas for kicking off a healthy new year.
We are an organization that works mostly in prevention, early detection and policy change. The best cure for cancer is not to get it in the first place. It seems that over 90% of cancer is environmental and the most toxic place we spend the most time in is our home. We can take the bull by the horns and effectively reduce our risk of cancer by making healthier choices. Trash Cancer parties are kind of like a spin on Tupperware parties, only instead of selling plastic, we recruit a host or hostess and send them all the information and samples they need so they can effectively throw a little gathering with their family and friends. It’s a fun way learn how to detox the home, make healthier choices and exercise the power of consumerism, and in so doing, give a loud message to manufacturers that we’re interested in buying products that are carcinogen free, toxin free and organic. You can find out more about it on www.trashcancer.org or you can go to our parent website, www.cancerschmancer.org. You can also plug in products you’ve used all your life and see how they rate it in terms of toxins. Take the “Check, Choose and Change Challenge,” and you might have to replace an item in your home or in your personal care items, or a food you eat or your gardening and cleaning supplies. You have to make healthier choices to decrease your risk of cancer by living a more toxin-free life. You can also sign up to get emails from me talking about what’s happening and imparting more information and reasons to motivate yourself and your family to tackle cancer.
You’re getting the message out about having more of a partner-type relationship versus a parent-child type relationship with your doctor.
You know, doctors are very busy people. They tend to be bludgeoned by insurance companies to go the least expensive route of diagnostic testing. They have a fast turnover to cover their own insurance and malpractice expenses and many of them subscribe to the philosophy “If you hear hooves galloping, don’t look for a zebra because it’s probably a horse.” But if you happen to be a zebra, you’re in trouble. It took me two years and eight doctors to get a proper diagnosis of uterine cancer and by the grace of God I was still in stage one. I feel like I got famous, got cancer and lived to talk about it, so it’s become my life’s mission. Bad things happen to good people. How we go through them is what makes all the difference. If you catch cancer on arrival, you have a 95% chance of survival. The reason we lose loved ones to cancer is almost always due to a late-stage diagnosis. You have to recognize the early warning whispers and know the tests available so you can be better partners with your physician. Don’t go into denial, because you want to stay alive and well.
It is remarkable that you are a US diplomat and a special envoy for women’s health issues. The fact that you’re helping people to prevent and detect cancer must mean a lot to you.
You know, it’s an amazing experience. I have the benefit of being recognizable, so people stop me and share their story and say: “Because of you or your book ‘Cancer Schmancer’ or your organization” or “I heard you on this TV show or this radio show or read this interview, I stopped being in denial, I made that appointment and I’m alive today!” No one has a crystal ball, and that’s another life lesson, because you could get very mired down in thinking “It wasn’t supposed to be this way; why did this happen to me?” But eventually you have to play the hand that’s been dealt you and play it as courageously and elegantly as you can.
What should women focus on with their healthcare providers regarding prevention and detection of cancer?
Definitely request a transvaginal ultrasound to get a better picture of any abnormalities that may be in the uterus or around the ovaries. I don’t think that the archaic pelvic exam—you know, sticking your fingers up the vaginal canal and pressing the abdomen—is really going to let you know what’s going on. And you know what ladies? The Pap test does not go north of the cervix! It’s a worthwhile test but you also need to get some clue as to what’s going on in your uterus and ovaries because ovarian cancer goes undetected and over 80% of women find out in the late stages and over 70% of them die. For whatever reason, the medical community confuses classic uterine cancer symptoms at their earliest and most curable stage with early menopause symptoms. At its earliest and most curable stage, ovarian cancer, which is a much more aggressive, fast-growing cancer, is often misdiagnosed for irritable bowel syndrome!
Women need vocals like yours for their own health. Your work is really impressive.
Thank you, Christine. I really appreciate that. We have to take control of our bodies. We have to become medical consumers. People put more energy into buying, selling and repairing automobiles then they do their own bodies! When a doctor tells you that you have cancer, at the end of the day he goes home and has dinner with his family and you go home and eat your heart out with yours. It’s your life, take control of it. Be smart, it’s the 21st century. Let go of those old school ways that aren’t serving you anymore. We live in a toxic world and you have to know what’s going on. Go to your doctor and get an annual transvaginal ultrasound, even though it won’t be on the menu! If something looks abnormal around the ovaries, ask for a CA-125 blood test. It’s not a perfect test but it’s all that’s out there. Insurance companies wait for perfection before they start doling out bucks for tests. In the meantime, take advantage of what’s available. Use your Christmas savings account for tests insurance won’t pay for because the best gift you can give your family is a long and healthy life.
So true! Because it’s not just the person with cancer that’s affected; loved ones suffer too.
Women need to keep themselves alive. The ripple effect is devastating to our immediate family, our extended family, our community. Also: each one teach one! I talk to you, you write the article, your readers read it and they talk to others.
Have you felt better physically since you embraced a vegan lifestyle?
I definitely feel better eating a predominately vegan diet. I went to traditional doctors and each doctor gave me a different prescription for the same symptom until I finally threw them all away and started going alternative. One of the first pieces of advice I got was to start eating plant based: clean out your system, clean out your liver. Now I am plant based, gluten free, histamine free and alcohol free and that’s helping me to feel really well. If somebody wants to have some animal protein, they should do so sparingly and it should be very pristine, organically grown meat, fish or fowl. What we all need to do is start buying food from local, organic, sustainable farms. The way we are mass-producing food right now is not in the best interest of our health, the land or the animals that we slaughter. At the end of the day, it’s not sustainable.
People love your show “Happily Divorced” on TV Land, a laugh-out-loud comedy about a woman who, after 18 years of marriage, is told by her ex that he thinks he’s gay, and which is actually inspired by your life. Tell us how it made perfect sense to craft a sitcom inspired from the situation you went through with Peter after you divorced.
Yes, it is inspired by my own life, so it resonates in a very real, honest and humorous way and people seem to love it. It’s on right after “Hot in Cleveland” on TV Land. I always like to do comedy that’s rooted in a real place and gets its origins from an actual experience. I just thought that the relationship between a divorced, middle-aged, single woman and her gay ex-husband was fresh, hadn’t been explored before on television and was something we could write about because we have first-hand experience.
On this season of “Happily Divorced,” Peter gets a job working as an assistant to Joan Collins, who plays a fictionalized version of herself. What other stuff are you excited about this season?
I’m think I’m most excited about the fact that the season is arcing around Fran being engaged to be married. And the guest stars just keep it so exciting! We have Molly Shannon, Cyndi Lauper, Joan Collins, Ralph Macchio and more. We‘re also introducing a new neighbor: a very sexy, British rogue of a man. I think that it’s going to be a very fun, big season. I’m looking forward to it and I think that the audience is going to eat it up with a spoon!
Tell us a little more about the great work your cousin is doing in the New Orleans area rebuilding houses with Project Home Again.
I’m very proud of my cousin Erica. She’s a great girl and talented in many ways. She’s also vegan, a great chef and a great stylist. Now she’s ventured into the world of philanthropy and being a great do-gooder, which is very near and dear to my heart. At the same time, she feels she’s contributing to the greater good by helping people who lost their homes during Katrina to acquire new ones. I applaud her for that. The Buddhist monks teach us that the happiest people are those who are making other people happy. People who try to make themselves happy are never as happy as those who help others. Making other people happy has the silver lining of making you very happy and I think Erica has come to love it as well. She’s very happy helping the people of New Orleans.
Tell us what you love about New Orleans.
I have always loved New Orleans and have always had a great time when I’ve gone down there. I love the people and I have friends down there. I love the climate, the music, the food and the vibe of the place.
What makes you laugh these days?
What makes me laugh? Well, always Peter, my parents, being with friends, the ironies of life. I see the humor in what happens naturally in life. I love a good comedy. I love the comedy we’re doing with “Happily Divorced.” Once in a while I really enjoy watching comedy in movies and on television in projects other than my own. It always feels good to laugh out loud; that’s what we strive for on “Happily Divorced.” It’s a good feeling to be lighthearted. I think there is an art and a practice to living a joyful life.
Fran’s Top 10 Must-Have Things to Make Life Easier and Healthier
- Nearest and dearest friends and family
- Esther (Fran’s adorable Pomeranian!)
- Fresh flowers
- Fresh organic food
- Good health