by Julie McKenna
“Cancer Schmancer,” says Fran Drescher in her famous voice. She is everyone’s favorite Nanny from Flushing, New York, having produced, directed and starred in the Emmy-winning television sitcom for six years. She has appeared in numerous movies, including The Beautician and the Beast, the timeless comedy Cadillac Man and the cult classic This Is Spinal Tap, and is the author of two New York Times best-selling books, Enter Whining and Cancer Schmancer. She is known as the Queen of Comedy, the Queen of Flushing, and now the Queen of … Persistence? Or at least, she should be, having gone to eight doctors in two years before getting an accurate diagnosis for her symptoms. The good news was that she finally had answers to her questions. The bad news was that she had uterine cancer.
In my interview with Fran for Coping® magazine, she begins by telling me that for two years she was experiencing various symptoms and went to her doctor. After being told it was nothing to worry about, she went to another doctor, and another, and another. The repeated diagnosis was that “You may be perimenopausal.”
“I was beginning to believe that maybe this is it, I’m not going to age well,” jokes Fran. “But it didn’t stop me from going to see more doctors because nobody was helping me. In the back of my mind I worried that I would have something that was more serious [than menopause], and that I might have wasted time.”
It was the eighth doctor that she went to who decided to give Fran a D & C (dilation and curettage) test, something that the other doctors had told her she was too young to have to undergo. The results came back positive for uterine cancer. “Fortunately, I was lucky that even after two years of classic uterine cancer symptoms, I did not move out of stage I, or it really would have been a tragedy,” says Fran.
She immediately had a radical hysterectomy that removed all of the cancer cells and she is now in remission. “I have every confidence that I’m cured because I was still in stage I and they took everything out,” explains Fran. The pathology results reported everything was clean except the walnut-sized tumor that never showed up in an ultrasound. This doesn’t mean she isn’t vigilant about her future health. “Early detection of recurrence equals survival as much as early detection of first-time cancer,” Fran notes. “Now I’m scheduling appointments to do a CAT scan, a mammogram and a bone density scan. I’d rather be efficient and make sure we’re all on top of everything.”
Fran feels that it was her responsibility as much as her doctors’ to search for a diagnosis. “I think the problem is the fact that people do not know their own bodies as well as they know their own automobiles,” she quips. “They don’t know what the early warning symptoms for cancers are, and consequently they don’t know what tests to ask for. We really have to be partners with our doctors. Ultimately it has to be our responsibility.”
Fran is now looking to her future, not willing to let her cancer experience consume her. “I want cancer to be a part of my life as it must be – it can’t be any other way. But I don’t want to make this my whole life,” Fran explains. “I’m talking to people now about developing my own daytime talk show; I’m also talking to people about doing a Broadway play; and I’m currently writing something with a partner for MTV, which I’m very excited about. It has a moral message about teaching teens to tolerate the cultural and ethnic differences in the world.”
But Fran isn’t stopping there. She is also an advocate for uterine cancer awareness. “I’m going to be involved with M.D. Anderson hospital in Houston, which is very aggressively working on research and fundraising for uterine cancer.”
When asked what advice she has for newly diagnosed cancer survivors, Fran says the proactive approach is the only way to go. “Research your cancer! Go on the Internet, go to the library, find out what tests are recommended, what studies are being done, and then speak to other people that have had it. Take control of the situation. Ask a lot of questions,” Fran advises.
“I am not glad I had cancer and I don’t wish it on anyone, but I’m definitely better for it,” Fran admits. “Life is all about living it under any circumstances. The thing that I learned through this experience was to reach out and get help from others, which was a great lesson for me to learn because I always thought I had to be the superwoman – everyone’s caretaker. And I also learned that side by side with grief lies joy. And it is our duty to seek it out, especially when times are tough.
“Cancer Schmancer!” says the Queen of Comedy. It’s an attitude we can all live with.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2002.