As far as funny women go, the ‘90s belonged to two-time Emmy-winning producer and star of “The Nanny,” Fran Drescher. But Drescher herself could have benefited from better caretaking when she was misdiagnosed with a perimenopausal condition when she actually had cancer. Today, she’s a survivor and president of the Cancer Schmancer Movement, advocating for greater cancer education, funds, and laws to aid others in similar situations. For her benevolent efforts, the comedic actress, seen most recently on “Happily Divorced,” was honored with the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation’s Spirit of Hope Award.
The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation honored you last year. Can you talk about the work you’ve done with them?
Well, I lend my ‘celebrity’ as a health activist to many worthwhile organizations, including the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and my own organization, Cancer Schmancer.
When they approached me, this was not a disease that I had worked with in the past. But I found the organization, the founder’s story, and the people involved extremely compelling. Since I was able to be available to them, I agreed to be honored because with many of these organizations, including my own, when a celebrity makes themselves available for large fundraising events, it helps them raise funds, so that they can continue with their mission.
As a cancer survivor yourself, how much do you identify with Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation’s efforts?
I can’t speak as someone who is entrenched in its efforts. I can just speak as a health activist and celebrity who respects the foundation, the work that they do, and their mission. So it worked out well that I was able to lend my celebrity and support that cause.
Your own organization's name — Cancer Schmancer — makes cancer sound surmountable. What does it mean to you?
It means that cancer is not the boss of me. That’s what it means to me.
You famously had uterine cancer, but were misdiagnosed and mistreated for a perimenopausal condition. As someone who was initially misdiagnosed, what advice would you give to someone who is coming to a doctor with troubling symptoms? How should they best navigate the process?
Well, I think the most important thing is to never accept just one opinion. Because the truth of the matter is, people are misdiagnosed and mistreated constantly in America. So no matter how much faith you have in your doctor, until you’re at the crossroads where push comes to shove and you may have something seriously wrong with you, you never really know what kind of a diagnostician this person really is.
And so it’s always prudent to get a second opinion. Also, I think that part of transforming from being a patient into a medical consumer is to do your own research on your symptoms and see what it could potentially be and what tests are available, because they might not even be on the menu at your doctor's office.
What were some of the things you did to help you persevere through the process once you were properly diagnosed?
You need to create a posse of people who love you, but are not going to get so upset by what’s happening to you that they are no longer able to actually help, and in turn wind up being a hindrance because you are spending more of your time calming them down than the other way around.
So you have to get people who are proactive, who show leadership, and can come to doctors’ appointments and come right into the examining room with you. And that’s a very important part of the process, to insulate yourself with your own little constellation of people who are going to take a very active role in the whole process from the diagnosis through post-op treatment.
And you need to get enough of them, so that if one is unable to make an appointment or show up, there’s another who can. Also, people who are in business are good, because they are good at spearheading, and they know how to connect the dots of this arduous process.
How can a patient’s spouse support them?
A spouse has a very key role in the process, and that’s the most challenging job — to be the significant other of someone who is going through a serious illness. That person should immediately start seeing a psychologist, because when you're in the company of the person who's ill, you have to be very solid and very strong, very optimistic, and very clear thinking. You're getting sucked into a nightmare, really, so you need to have that outlet, even if it's just once a week. You need an outlet to process and kick and scream and make it about you and say, 'Why me, Lord? Why is this happening? Why do I feel so angry at this person that I love who is sick, dying, or I don't know what?’ And you're entitled to feel all of those feelings with a trained ear, who will help guide you through your feelings, but not in front of the sick person.
How often do you go in for checkups these days?
I am very diligent about my ongoing post-op examinations with my oncologist, and, ironically, I'm on my way for my annual checkup as I talk to you. Originally, it started out that I went after the first two weeks, then every month, then every three months, then twice a year, and then annually.
What types of lifestyle changes have you made since your diagnosis?
I became a true activist and the founder of Cancer Schmancer, and I speak publicly through all different avenues of communication on a global scale about how to prevent cancer, and how to transform from being a patient to a medical consumer. I also talk about how to become more focused on eliminating cancer than staying with the Western medicine, reductionist way of dealing with things, which doesn't answer the question of why this happened and how to prevent it. That's the need we fill in the health sphere.
I think the most significant thing is learning how to detoxify your home. We have to reduce the level of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals that we expose ourselves to on a daily basis. Everything has to be 100 percent USDA organic: our foods, our personal care items, our fabric, and our cleaning products. Choose cleaning products that are eco-friendly, that you don’t need a degree from MIT to understand the ingredients in, because they're made with things that may have grown in your grandma's garden.
We have to be conscientious about keeping in mind that what we do to ourselves, what we do to our planet is all one interdependent living organism. And once you start thinking like that, I think we will mature as a species.
You've overcome a lot in your life. How do you continue to persevere when others would have crumbled?
First of all, nobody leaves this planet unscathed. One way or another, eventually, life is going to give you a big, hard bite on the ass, and you’re going to have to pull yourself out of the depths of despair. Now, one of the great life lessons that I’ve learned the hard way is that life can be a very difficult opportunity to become a more refined version of yourself, which I’m pretty sure is the purpose of life. So it’s a challenge to do that, but you have to play the hand that has been dealt to you, and you have to play it as courageously and as elegantly as you can and become a better person for it.
I’m not going to say that you aren’t going to kick and scream and say 'Why me, Lord?’ or ‘Why has this happened to this person that I love?' But eventually, and not long after, you have to question how long can you be angry before you begin to hurt yourself more than you’ve already been hurt?
Another thing is that all the Zen masters talk about living in the moment, and this has become a great life lesson for me as well. At no point should any of us think that anything we do today is permanent or is necessarily going to head in the direction we expect it to. And when you live your life with that wisdom, you appreciate everything more because you accept how ephemeral it all is, and you have a deeper appreciation for everything and everyone that surrounds you.
Does your husband, Shiva Ayyadurai, share your interest in Eastern medicine?
Oh, absolutely. He’s a brilliant man with four degrees from MIT, one of which is a doctorate in systems biology, and he has a wonderful ability to combine his own ancient Indian knowledge that he learned from his very simple village with the Western medicine and knowledge that he gained as a young student and immigrant in the U.S.
So yes, we are very compatible on Eastern medicine, and frankly, I’ve learned a lot from my husband. And we continue to share this and continue to devote ourselves to really revolutionizing the whole approach to wellness.
On June 21, 2015, the 15th anniversary of Fran Drescher's radical hysterectomy, the cancer survivor will host a gay pride kickoff cruise around Manhattan. Featuring hors d'oeuvres and cocktails, a selfie booth, models in the latest fashions, and raffles, this event is meant to draw attention to the importance of creating healthy homes via lifestyle changes.