Cancer Schmancer
Podcast #52 — Aired January 29, 2015

It took “The Nanny” star, Fran Drescher, two years and 11 doctors to be diagnosed with and treated for uterine cancer. Now, she lives to talk about it and empower other women to take an active role in their health. Fran is our guest this week on BetterWorldians Radio. She’ll talk about Cancer Schmancer, the foundation she started to promote the prevention and early detection of cancer, and her book by the same name.

 

 

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Fran Drescher
Actor, Producer, The Nanny
Founder, Cancer Schmancer

Fran Drescher received two Emmy and two Golden Globe nominations for her portrayal as the lovable "Miss Fine" on CBS’s hit series The Nanny, which she both created & executive produced. An accomplished author, Fran received the prestigious NCCS writer’s award for Cancer Schmancer, which along with Enter Whining, were both New York Times best sellers. A 14-year uterine cancer survivor, Fran turns lemons into lemonade and pain into purpose through her leadership as a cancer advocate. Her mission is to shift America’s focus toward proactive health care and healthy, toxin-free living. She believes that that the best cure for cancer is not getting it in the first place. As Founder, President & Visionary of the non-profit Cancer Schmancer Movement, she focuses on three prongs to fight the disease: Early Detection, Prevention, and Advocacy.

Episode Transcript

Raymond Hansell
This week on BetterWorldians Radio we're talking with actress and activist Fran Drescher. Fran received two Emmy and two Golden Globe nominations for her portrayal as the lovable "Miss Fine" on CBS's hit series The Nanny, which she both created and executive produced. An accomplished author, Fran received the prestigious NCCS writer's award for Cancer Schmancer, which along with Enter Whining were both New York Times best sellers. A 14-year uterine cancer survivor, Fran turns lemons into lemonade and pain into purpose through her leadership as a cancer advocate. Her mission is to shift American's focus towards proactive healthcare and healthy toxin-free living. She believes that the best cure for cancer is not getting it in the first place. As Founder, President and Visionary of the non-profit Cancer Schmancer Movement, she focuses on three prongs to fight the disease: Early detection, prevention and advocacy. Fran, thanks so much for joining us today on BetterWorldians Radio.

Fran Drescher
My pleasure. I really like what you guys are doing.

Raymond Hansell
Oh you're very, very welcome. I'd like to begin for our listeners to have you tell us a little bit about your experiences in starring in and producing the show The Nanny.

Fran Drescher
Oh well I had done many, many, many television pilots, short-lived sitcom and several movies under my belt before The Nanny happened but I had already made a commitment to myself that if I didn't get on the inside as a producer, someone that had more control over my own fate within the industry I was going to find another way to be successful and happy because I felt like I had done one too many projects where I thought I knew how to do it better than the people I was employed by. It became frustrating and of course the pilots didn't get picked up and so it was very serendipitous on a plane to France I was on the same flight with the President of CBS, a network that I had worked for repeatedly as an actors. And I started talking to him and one thing led to another and nine and a half hours later I had convinced him to let me pitch some ideas, which he agreed to when we all returned to the states. It was on that trip that I actually came up with the television show The Nanny because I was spending time with my dear friend, Twiggy, the one and only and her daughter, a proper little British school girl around 11 or 12 years old. I was taking her around the city because I wasn't confident enough to scale a new city by myself which was London, and my friend Joy Gait (Ph) was working. So I took Carlee (Ph) with me and then she started to say that her new shoes were hurting her and I thought oh god I hope she doesn't thing I'm going to take her home now so I said honey just step on the backs of them and she said won't that break them. I said break them in. I couldn't get this relationship out of my head and 5a.m. London time I called my husband, Peter, who was back in LA and I knew it was much earlier there and I said I think I came up with a show that we should pitch to Jeff Sagansky when I come back. I said what do you think of a spin on the Sound of Music only instead of Julie Andrews I come to the door. Peter who has a great sense for these things said almost immediately that's it. That's the one that we're going to pitch to CBS when you get back. We'll develop it. And that was the beginning of it. As soon as we went in there they kind of green lighted it to take the next step and the next step. We kept jumping those hurdles and we knew when we finally got to shoot the pilot that we had caught lightning in a bottle. The audience was right with us. They got the humor. They got what the set-up was, what the situation was and it was just a very, very special time that continues to air worldwide to this day from 1993. We're still very blessed and so that's been a wonderful door opener for me on many different levels. I'm most appreciative.

Raymond Hansell
Well you know I have to mention this quote from the book towards the tail end of it you actually say at the end of this chapter on pins and needles you never know when a pearl will drop in your lap so stay open and you too may get a note through a friend from someone you don't know, one that will make all the difference. And so this serendipity started way back then with The Nanny even before some of the serendipitous things that happened in your journey with Cancer Schmancer.

Fran Drescher
Yes opportunity knocks all the time, every day, but we're always looking in one direction and we have blinders on our eyes we may not see and you have to be flexible and anticipate that something you didn't anticipate may actually be the portal for you to walk through for the next chapter in your life. That's what I think makes life particularly exciting because we plan our play, we play our plan but you never know what's going to come out of left field and you should always be open to it and be willing to move in that direction. The tree that can bend doesn't break.

Raymond Hansell
So let's talk with our listeners for a bit about one of the major subjects here we're going to be covering with you and that's the months and months of knowing that something was wrong before you received this diagnosis in 2000. What was it like when you finally found out about the diagnosis with uterine cancer?

Fran Drescher
Well this is after a two year, eight doctor odyssey so I just couldn't believe that ultimately they told me I had cancer and it took them so long and I had no idea at that point how long I'd been sitting with cancer and whether this meant that my life was in real danger. So it leveled me to the ground and I wept and I was very frightened. I looked around at the things in my house and I thought god I'm going to be lifted out of this equation and all this stuff is still going to be around. The only thing that'll be gone is me. I wish that I could have been anybody, anybody but me in that moment but I was stuck being me. I had to face what I didn't want to but I had no choice. I had to just persevere and walk through the fire and hope to get to the other side.

Raymond Hansell
You had a great support system of friends and family during this time. How important was all that for you?

Fran Drescher
It's vitally important. I tell all people that suspect if they have something wrong with them to build yourself a posy of people that are going to go with you to the doctor, ask questions, write down answers, be the strong one, not make it about them, not be someone you have to calm down but someone that's going to carry you if you need it. If there was one piece of advice it would be that. Hand pick those people. People that are going to be strong for you because its a very tough time. Very, very challenging. Doctors rattle off words that you've never heard before and you have to have somebody with a pen and pad that's head isn't going to start swirling to write down and ask the doctor how do you spell that because you're going to want them to help you look all this stuff up on the internet and see what is going on out there in this area. You just absolutely can't and should not try to do it alone. There's so much and it's too important quite frankly.

Raymond Hansell
You learned a lot in your process. I really encourage our listeners to read this book because it's really a journey of discovery that Fran experienced through just constantly staying with it, asking questions, using that support group. I have to ask you about your sense of humor here. Did that help you also get through the tough difficult times as well?

Fran Drescher
Oh definitely. I mean it always does. Comedy, humor, laughter lifts your spirit and helps lighten the load but living life joyfully is a daily practice. It's very easy to get swallowed up by grief. You really have to be mindful of that. When I was writing my book which became New York Times best-seller Cancer Schmancer, the first draft was actually pretty bitter. I was angry at the medical community. I was angry at my own body. I felt betrayed. I had to keep writing it differently until I found my funny voice again and then it became a very cathartic experience because I remembered things that were actually very funny that happened. I think that one of the life lessons that came out of that was that side by side was grief lies joy. Sometimes its hard to feel it or see it. You have to seek it out and be very aware and trusting that it's there and not to make your grief or your illness or your loss the whole pie of your life because you'll be doing yourself a great disservice and it frankly isn't the whole pie. It can be tragic but don't make it the whole pie. There's a lot going on and as long as you're alive, life is for the living so you have to live. You have to look for the tiny miracles that are growing through the cracks in the pavement.

Raymond Hansell
So what ultimately inspired you to write this amazing book, Cancer Schmancer? What was it that drove you to do that?

Fran Drescher
Well originally it was because I didn't want what happened to me to happen to other people. Then when I went on my book tour and I started public speaking I realized that what happened to me happens to many Americans by means of misdiagnosis and mistreatment. For many, fortunately not myself, late stage cancer diagnosis is a consequence. I was really quite taken aback that my story was not unique but actually quite common. It was then that I realized this book was not the end but just the beginning of what is now a life mission. The next logical conclusion was to start a movement so that we can empower Americans to take control of their body's, to transform from being a patient into a medical consumer, to know what the early warning whispers are of the cancer that may affect you and know the tests that are available because all too often they're not even on the menu at the doctor's office. All of these things have become part of the mission statement and code of the Cancer Schmancer Movement.

Raymond Hansell
Well it's an amazing movement. We're going to get into the details of some of that movement in our next segment but we're going to take a short break right now. We'll be talking more with Fran Drescher about her foundation, her book Cancer Schmancer when we come back. We'll be right back. (Music)

Raymond Hansell
You're listening to BetterWorldians Radio. We're speaking with actress and activist Fran Drescher and now let me welcome back Fran and MarySue.

MarySue Hansell
Hi Fran.

Fran Drescher
Hi MarySue. How are you feeling?

MarySue Hansell
Great, great.

Fran Drescher
Good.

MarySue Hansell
I wanted to ask you a little bit more about that book tour because apparently it inspired you to found the Cancer Schmancer Institute. Could you tell us more about what happened? Were there women talking to you? Did they email you? Did they call you? What were you finding?

Fran Drescher
Well first on the book tour you're meeting people one-to-one. They come up to the desk where you're signing books and they want to share their story. Then when I went on the lecture circuit we would do Q&A's after or they would rush the stage after I finished speaking and they'd want to say this happened to me or my doctor treated me for that. It was just repeatedly in stunning numbers quite evident to me that the way most doctors diagnose is inadequate. And they all seem to be bludgeoned by health insurance companies that pressure them to go the least expensive route of diagnostic testing and so they tend to prescribe to the philosophy if you hear hooves galloping, don't look for zebras. It's probably a horse. For all intended purposes, I looked like considering my age and weight that I was most likely more in the premenopause world than uterine cancer which typically is a cancer that women who are either obese or post-menopausal experience. But, one out of four women are young and thin as I was and doctor number one thought I was too young to get an endometrial biopsy and that was the very test two years and eight doctors later that diagnosed me. So over and over again I'm hearing people share their stories which are akin to my own. They would say I like what you have to say and I like where you're going with this and I want to help you or how can I learn more. It just became very evident to me that I needed to start a movement. All these people needed somebody to help lead them into a direction where they were more empowered and more in control of their health. That's how the Cancer Schmancer Movement came about. It was out of necessity because there were so many people that seemed so lost and clearly were looking for leadership. I felt like I got famous. I got cancer and I lived to talk about it. So I started talking and 14 and a half years later I've not stopped.

MarySue Hansell
Well God bless you. I'm sure a lot of women have found what they needed by reading your book and also looking at your website Cancer Schmancer. Let's talk about that a little bit more. Early detection is such an important part of the work that Cancer Schmancer does. One of the things that I saw on the website was about Fran's vans. Can you tell us what that is?

Fran Drescher
Well that's a van that rolls into low income neighborhoods like an ice-cream truck and has mobile mammography equipment on the van. And some vans you're invited in to get a mammogram, other vans the mobile mammography machine goes to a local clinic. But either way, it's designed to help women who are marginalized and do not get breast exams regularly to offer them an opportunity to do that because most low income women will find out they have cancer in the late stages and most of them will die.

MarySue Hansell
It sounds like Fran's vans have saved many lives with that early detection.

Fran Drescher
Yes and when something is reported that seems off or suspicious, we offer them what we call a patient navigator and that's somebody that is going to be that person to help navigate you through the medical maze when you think that there's something seriously wrong with you.

MarySue Hansell
I really like the list of questions that you have on the website that patients should ask the doctor. We really don't know what questions to ask, most of us, like you're saying you didn't when you went so that's really helpful.

Fran Drescher
Yes.

MarySue Hansell
Can you talk a little bit more about maybe what some of them are and how you designed them?

Fran Drescher
Okay well its all from my own experience. When we did our first video for Cancer Schmancer, The Tea Party, we had a lot of women sitting around my living room which we shot on video and some of them were survivors, some of them had never personally experienced cancer but had been exposed to it through a relative or friend and some were just primarily interested in learning how they can either avoid getting cancer or what they needed to do to prevent themselves from getting cancer. We always lean towards the side that the reason why we lose loved ones to cancer is almost always due to late stage diagnosis so if you catch it on arrival, 95% survival.

MarySue Hansell
Oh, that's perfect. That's a great expression.

Fran Drescher
And so that's what we need to condition our members and their families to start thinking about because particularly with women where they're very consumed with taking care of their families, feeding the kids, cleaning the house and if they're a working mom that's just compounded by having a full or part-time job because at the end of the day the woman is still the caregiver of the spouse, the children and the elder in almost every home worldwide.

MarySue Hansell
So I guess you're saying that we women really don't take care of ourselves because we're too busy taking care of everybody else.

Fran Drescher
That is the concern and pitfall and so we tend to ignore the early warning whispers of the cancers that might affect us, so that's something that we try and train women to move away from because the best gift you can give your family is your own survival of a long and healthy life. So you can sweep those early morning whisper symptoms under the rug and act like if you ignore it maybe it'll just go away but the day will come when you can ignore it no more and you will only wish that you could still kind of be in that place where you had options. Once it's too late it's very hard --

MarySue Hansell
Just the fact that you're saying this on this broadcast I'm sure a lot of women will take some action and go get that breast exam that they haven't gotten and so forth. You also have a big focus on prevention and you talk a lot about the environmental factors, which is also a big interest of mine. Tell me about the whole detox your home initiative.

Fran Drescher
Well detox your home we think is really a breakthrough and fills the space that desperately needs to be discussed because what we are coming out of the 20th century with is this idea that if we write enough checks there will be a cure for this disease. We'll just take a pill or something and everything will be just swell but that is not likely to happen. Over 90% of cancers are environmentally stimulated.

MarySue Hansell
That surprised me. I didn't realize it was that high, 90% were from environmental factors.

Fran Drescher
Over 90% so I mean the stuff that we bring into the home creates a toxic chemical cocktail that rivals living across the street from an oil refinery, we have to start asking ourselves what do we put in our mouths, on our skin and around us by means of cleaning and gardening supplies. We can detox our homes. If we start detoxing our homes we will effectively reduce our risk of getting cancer for both ourselves and our families. This is what we must strive for because the best cure for cancer is not getting it in the first place. But the way the medical world works today is called reductionist medicine and it was established directly out of war and the battlefield when a very badly wounded soldier would come into the hospital and they'd have to patch him up in the best way they can so that the victim of war doesn't stop them from getting back out there in the field to fight in war. So there's a lot of things that are really not in our best interest but they're repurposed out of what we use in war. I'm actually trying to wake people up and have them realize that the great things in life do not come out of war. Innovation does not come out of war. It's just all repurposed stuff that isn't necessarily good for us, chemicals, aluminum cans, pesticides, herbicides. There's just so much and its so inundating.

MarySue Hansell
It's scary isn't it?

Fran Drescher
Well its scary if you don't know what to do. If you go online and you start practicing being a medical consumer and you learn how to start detoxing your home with our In, On and Around You Challenge, once you start doing that then you take the next step and it happens quite naturally. You begin to look at what is that mattress you're sitting on? What is that fabric on your couch that has flame retardant on it? What is that no iron shirt my husband is wearing? Why doesn't that 100% cotton crease? What is it doused with? How many years does it continue to off-gas?

MarySue Hansell
When I was reading your website I was looking about the beauty care products and the eye shadows and things and I thought let me look at mine. I thought uh-oh so I wanted to thank you very much. I just threw out all those old eye care products and got organic ones.

Fran Drescher
Oh, that's great.

MarySue Hansell
So maybe you could tell our listeners. A lot of people don't think about their foundations that these things actually have all these horrible chemicals.

Fran Drescher
Yah and some are even worse than others like lipstick. We end up eating over the course of a year like a pound of lipstick. We eat it! And also the lips are one of the most absorbing parts of the whole body so what you're constantly putting on is actually sinking into your body. I am really very opposed to using antiperspirant. Antiperspirant has aluminum chlorohydrate in it and that is very bad for us. We should avoid it at all costs. I had a boyfriend who said but I sweat and it's like well go to the men's room twice a day and wash your pits because you can't be putting that stuff under your arms. That's a part of your body that needs to help you to detox through perspiration and you're unnaturally trying to control it by making a prohibitive to release the toxins that are in our body. That should just be outlawed but it's all about supply and demand.

MarySue Hansell
Thank you so much for this good advice.

Raymond Hansell
Yah, I hate to take another break at the time that we're talking about the pits but we're going to have to take another short break and I can't wait. We'll be back shortly with Fran Drescher in just a few minutes.

MarySue Hansell
Thanks Fran.

Fran Drescher
Thank you. (Music)

Raymond Hansell
We're back now with actress and activist Fran Drescher.

Gregory Hansell
Hi Fran. This is Greg.

Fran Drescher
Hi Greg. How are you?

Gregory Hansell
I'm great. Thanks. Are you enjoying the show so far?

Fran Drescher
Yes, very nice. I'm really intrigued by this little family radio show.

Gregory Hansell
Thank you so much.

Fran Drescher
I think it's really sweet.

Gregory Hansell
Thank you. Thank you. Well I know you had a huge following of young fans since The Nanny stayed on the air for more than 20 years so what would you want to tell your young fans about living healthier and preventative lifestyles?

Fran Drescher
Well its interesting that you ask that because we are now in the process of producing a very viewer friendly school assembly program that will inspire and motivate kids to learn how to detox their home and engage their parents and teach them how to detox their homes as well. So its exciting because I think that the younger you are, the more you are open to the idea that you're inheriting a planet with a lot of problems that you yourself didn't create but you're going to have to stop this rabbit hole from getting dug even deeper. The start of that is learning how to look at everything in your home differently and what are you eating? Kids can eat a lot of things that are not healthy. As a result of that, kids for the first time in US history are predicted to not live as long as their parents.

Gregory Hansell
That's crazy.

Fran Drescher
Now kids are getting sick with diseases like diabetes that historically were a kind of diabetes that would only attack older people but because kids are so sedentary, sitting in front of the computer or playing video games and because they're eating without thinking a vast array of GMO foods, they're getting fat and sick. I think that the gig is up on this because they will not live as long as their parents if they don't make the commitment now to change what they eat, what they put on their skin and what they clean and garden with. And they need to also ask their schools because a lot of kids that have trouble paying attention or get allergies or are tired or they can't sit still, this could all be the effect of an allergic response to the chemicals that they're using on the desks and the floors each night because in that lies a lot of things that are harmful. You just have to insist that the things that are being used to clean the rooms that you're spending eight hours a day in is made of something, a material that's either 100% natural or 100% hypoallergenic.

Gregory Hansell
Yah, I think it's a good point. I mean I think kids are scared about what they're inheriting and I think it's great that you're out there trying to encourage the younger generations to really be aware of what's happening and be mindful of the changes they can make to improve their lives and everyone's lives. I did want to ask you also what did your battle with cancer teach you about yourself?

Fran Drescher
That I'm not a superwoman, that I shouldn't try to take on everybody else's problems to a fault, that I should be able to be a more well-rounded person by means of not only giving out but asking for help. And I think that to be more compassionate, to be deepened as an actor, to be more feeling for other people's strife and I think that's kind of the wheelhouse that most of my life lessons factor into.

Gregory Hansell
That's interesting. Some of those are real gifts. So I was wondering how has founding and being a part of Cancer Schmancer changed your life?

Fran Drescher
It somehow made sense out of the senseless when you turn pain into purpose because I had to get a radical hysterectomy to cure myself of the cancer which is a difficult operation for any woman but for one that had never had children like myself it's a particularly bitter pill to swallow. I felt very frustrated and very angry about it all but the organization that I founded has given a meaning and a context to it all that makes me feel like I'm not glad I had cancer. I don't wish it on anyone but I am better for it and sometimes the best gifts come in the ugliest packages.

Gregory Hansell
Its true. So what's your best piece of advice for someone who is dealing with a cancer diagnosis?

Fran Drescher
I think that its good to look at that list of things you should do. It's good to create a support system. It's good to not try and go it alone and to see this as a challenging opportunity to become a more refined version of yourself. If you focus on that and you focus on being joyful and grateful that you're here and you're alive and see yourself in the big picture of how you can turn this around, you didn't ask for it to happen. You were busy making other plans but no one has a crystal ball. No one knows what's going to happen five minutes from now and when life hands you a blow and it certainly does when you're told you have cancer you need to pull yourself up, dust yourself off and really develop yourself in a way that strengthens you, that allows you to see what you're afraid of, to say things that you maybe didn't feel needed to be said but should be said, to live in the moment, to be more zen, to know that whatever happens through this experience you've seen how you can grow as a human being as a result of this and truly turn it into an opportunity.

Gregory Hansell
I have a question I ask every guest at the end of every show. We only have about two minutes left unfortunately but I did want to ask you this week how do you hope the work being done at Cancer Schmancer can help to make the world a better place?

Fran Drescher
Well I think that right now we're a society that is living in fear and wondering when someone you know or even yourself is going to be told you have cancer. What Cancer Schmancer does is empower you with knowledge. Knowledge is empowering and so the more you know, the more you can take strategic steps to prevent cancer and also to get it diagnosed while its still in the whisper stage. The reason why we lose loved ones to cancer is almost always due to late stage diagnosis. So these are the things that I think are of critical importance and something that sort of can make a difference. I wrote the book. I think writing down your feelings even if you never get your book published that doesn't matter. It's that you wrote it and you got out a lot of feelings and other things that help define who you are in your work, in your family, in your community.

Raymond Hansell
Well we're very grateful that you did write that book and we encourage people to read it. It's quite an inspirational story. You can find out more about Fran, her foundation and the book by going to CancerSchmancer.org. Fran, on behalf of everybody here at BetterWorldians I'd like to thank you for joining us today on BetterWorldians Radio.

Fran Drescher
Thank you so much for having me and for all the good positive work you're putting out to the world. I really appreciate you guys very much.

Raymond Hansell
We'd like to thank you today especially. This has been a very, very special episode for us. As we end our show each week I'd like to share our mission here at BetterWorldians, what we're all about. We strive to make the world a better place by encouraging the very best in everyone. We focus on positive thinking, positive values and positive actions. In a nutshell, in short, our vision here is to bring out the BetterWorldian in everyone so that we can all make it a better world. So until next time, everyone out there please be a BetterWorldian. (Music)