• March 2010

Fran Drescher's powerful new role: health advocate for women

By Hope Katz Gibbs
Editor and Publisher
Be Inkandescent magazine

I first met Fran Drescher when I was hired by the National Press Club to cover a luncheon where she was the keynote speaker. That was last April and since then, the one-time TV diva has continued to evolve in her new role as an advocate for women’s health.

“I am not glad that I got cancer, but I am better for it,” the award-winning actress said when she came to D.C. to promote her new role as the U.S. State Department special envoy for women’s health, and her nonprofit organization Cancer Schmancer (which is also the title of her second New York Times best-selling book), www.cancerschmancer.org.

Writer, director, co-producer and star of the popular CBS television series The Nanny, Fran was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2001. It had taken several years and eight doctors to find the tumor. Because it went undiagnosed for so long, the disease had metastasized to Stage Four — leaving Fran no alternative but to undergo a radical hysterectomy.

“I was devastated,” Fran admits. “I remember standing in my bathroom after the surgery, looking swollen and bruised, and feeling nothing like the Superwoman I had felt I was my whole life. I wished I could have been anyone but me in that moment.”

Not long after, she was having dinner with her cousin Susan when Susan began to choke on a piece of chicken. “I had seen someone choking before in a restaurant, and knew I had to do the Heimlich maneuver,” explains Fran, who said she stood behind her cousin and pushed on her chest until finally, the chicken chunk popped out. “I admit it, I saved her life. But really, she saved mine because at that moment, I felt like myself again.”

The experience gave Fran the idea to write her book. On the book tour, she talked to hundreds of other women who suffered through cancer and also experienced the drama of being misdiagnosed, allowing their cancers to reach the late stages.

“I knew that I had to do something more than write a book; I had to start a movement,” exclaimed Fran, who soon after founded her Reston, Va.–based organization. “Eleanor Roosevelt said ‘women are like tea bags. We don’t know how strong we are until we are dipped in hot water.’ It is so incredibly true. I realize now that I got famous, and I got cancer, so I could stand here today and try to change lives.”

Since then, Fran has been instrumental in winning passage of the first Gynecological Cancer Education and Awareness Act. Indeed, she believes that cancer diagnosed in stage one “is the cure,” and she’s doing everything in her power to encourage every woman to insist on getting all tests necessary to identify if disease is brewing.

“When you get that weird feeling that something inside you just isn’t right, go to the doctor and find out what’s up,” she said. “Find out what tests aren’t on the menu. Do research on the Internet. Ask your friends. You have to be your own medical advocate.”

Fran said she’s enjoying her new roles as activist and philanthropist. Although she is happy to take the occasional acting role, she’s considering the idea of running for political office. Her decision, she said, will be determined by where she feels she is most able to impact the future of women’s health issues.

“I want to be part of a movement that shifts the negative paradigm in the world, and make sure that this is the century of the woman.”

For more information, visit www.cancerschmancer.org.

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