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Lights, Camera, Activist: Fran Drescher & Cancer Schmancer

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Fran Drescher - Lights, Camera... Activist

By: Greg Root
Photos: Allen Carrasco
Courtesy of Fran Drescher & Susan Holland

Fran Drescher has been described as a ‘Russell’. She has the comic timing of Rosalind Russell, the curves of Jane Russell and the tenacity of a Jack Russell. These attributes have served her well, establishing her as a bankable star, who is loved and respected internationally.

Fran’s remarkable body of work includes award-winning performances on the silver screen, television and in live performances on the most prestigious stages across America. Along the way, she has earned two Emmy Awards, two Golden Globe nominations, and is the recipient of The John Wayne Institute Woman of Achievement Award, The Gilda Award, The City of Hope Woman of The Year Award, The Hebrew University Humanitarian Award, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicines Spirit of Achievement Award, among others.

Fran is also the accomplished author of The New York Times best sellers, Enter Whining and Cancer Schmancer. She recently produced her first children’s book, called Being Wendy.

As the President and Visionary of the successful non-profit organization the Cancer Schmancer Movement, Fran was successful in getting the first Gynecologic Cancer Education and Awareness Act passed into law, among other  accomplishments.

Cancer Schmancer Movement Fran’s mission is to use appropriated funds to reach women globally with the message of the importance of early detection and cancer screenings. The Cancer Schmancer Movement, a proud partner with Inner Images Inc.© provides women with limited access, life-saving cancer screening tests and early detection. “Fran Van screening” ensures that women with cancer are diagnosed in the earliest stages, when it’s most curable. The mantra of the Cancer Schmancer movement is
“early detection is the cure.”

Fran was appointed to the position of Special Envoy for Women’s Health Issues by the U.S. State Department and utilizes her international celebrity to reach and educate women in third world countries in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Fran is an achiever, a world class actor, an international advocate, an author, teacher and a cancer survivor. Fran is living proof that laughter really is the best medicine.

Fran Drescher with Happily Divorced cast

Fran Drescher with Happily Divorced cast

Fran Drescher Q&A

Tell us about Happily Divorced. What is it like playing a role inspired by your real life?
Happily Divorced is a show with a global message that “love is love” and people can enjoy each other and live and work together with mutual respect and affection, divorced, married, gay or straight. Everything I do stems from real life experiences…As Neil Simon once said…

“You gotta write about what you know,” and I completely agree. The new idea for the show came from a trip I took to Paris with my ex-husband Peter Marc Jacobson a couple years after our divorce. Initially, we slipped into our old ways, behaving like a husband and wife, but soon realized that we were no longer “stuck” with each other in the traditional sense. In fact, we were free to live our lives as a single gay man and a single straight woman alone or together.

Through it all, our love and mutual respect endured and we came to realize that we were in fact, happily divorced. Peter and I started writing Happily Divorced as a screen play. Shortly thereafter, I received a call from Keith Cox, (Executive Vice President, Development and Original Programming, TV Land) to get together for lunch to talk about development ideas. Keith asked about my ideas for a show where I would star, write and produce and I shared the concept for Happily Divorced.

I asked if he wanted to hear some of my other ideas to which he replied “Why? I just bought the first one.” In that moment, Happily Divorced went from a screenplay to a TV series.

Fran Drescher What can viewers expect to see in Season 2?
One aspect of the show we will focus on is the relationship between Rita Moreno’s character (Dori), and her husband (Glen), played by Robert Walden. The fact that these two are seniors but still in love (and frisky) is something we want to explore in season two.

Our cast consists of an amazing group of professionals with a wealth of experience. Rita Moreno has won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, a Grammy, and a Golden Globe. John Michael Higgins has been in a number of significant films and TV shows. He won the Best in Show in the film Best in Show! Valente Rodriguez has been in various TV shows and films. Robert Walden has been in films and TV for decades, and Tichina Arnold is a veteran of stage, film and numerous TV shows.

Now that we’ve introduced the characters in season one, we will flesh out and develop their personalities in season two.

In addition to being an award-winning actress, writer, director and producer, you have also authored three books! Tell us about your most recent publication, Being Wendy.
Being Wendy is technically my first children’s book but actually carries a universal message that can be embraced by children and adults. Being yourself and being an “original” is something that needs to be recognized and celebrated. Sexual orientation, size, weight, ethnicity, etc. makes no difference. Simply be who you are and be the best you can be.

Speaking of thinking outside the box, what is it like wearing so many different hats in your everyday life?
I have a very fertile mind and I get bored very easily (like Wendy in Being Wendy). I challenge myself to write, act, produce and create and I am dedicated to my work as a health activist. “If I only acted, I would get so bored I would stick a fork in my eye!”

Rumor has it that before you were an actress, you obtained your cosmetology license and even owned a salon. Tell us about your short-lived experience in the beauty industry.
It’s true. When I was young, I wanted to be an actress and dropped out of college to follow my dream. I pursued my cosmetology license as kind of a back-up plan in case the acting thing didn’t work out. Back in the day, I used to cut hair for my friends and fellow actors, including Dan Aykroyd, Dennis Quaid and David Carusso. (I know all of their bald spots) I still occasionally cut my friends’ hair.

The Nanny, Joy Miller in The Beautician and the Beast and yourself on Happily Divorced… what characters have you had the most fun portraying?
I had the most fun playing Fran Fine in The Nanny. I loved the physical comedy and I loved the interplay between Fran and Maxwell, her boss who becomes her husband. It was in the style of Lucy and Ricky, which I’ve always loved, but with a modern twist and contemporary characters.

How have you coped with tragedy and hardship in your life? Have you always been able to laugh off life’s challenges?
It took four drafts of my book, Cancer Schmancer, before I found my funny bone. Like most folks, when I found that I had cancer, I spent time kicking, screaming and crying “Why me Lord?” But I soon came to the realization: “When life bites you on the ass on a Wednesday afternoon, you have to shift gears and accept what you thought is, isn’t, and deal with your new reality as elegantly and courageously as you can.”

Fran Drescher with the cast of The Nanny

Fran Drescher with the cast of The Nanny

Which career accomplishments are you most proud of?
Of course, I’m proud of my work on stage, films and TV and I love the characters that I’ve created. However, I am most proud of my work as a health activist. As someone who has survived cancer, I believe I was blessed with a slow growing cancer that was detected relatively late, but still allowed me to live to tell about it. As I always say, “Turn pain into purpose.” My work as an activist has helped me make sense of the senseless and has opened doors in an incredible way. Of all the celebrities who are trying to make a difference in Washington, I am very proud to be included in the small group of five who are taken seriously on Capitol Hill: Bono, George Clooney, Brad and Angelina and Fran! That’s pretty good company.

As a uterine cancer survivor, cancer detection and prevention are hugely important to you. Tell us about the story behind the Cancer Schmancer Movement.
I needed a way to gain control. I felt betrayed by the medical community and by my own body and the “cure” required a radical hysterectomy which meant that I would never be able to give birth, and that my life was going to change forever.

I decided to write a book to ensure what happened to me wouldn’t happen to anyone else. This decision became my second New York Times best seller, Cancer Schmancer. Soon after I realized that late stage diagnosis and misdiagnosis were happening to women across the globe. I decided to work towards transforming patients from uninformed consumers to medically aware consumers.

‘‘I got famous, then I got cancer, and now I live to talk about it. Sometimes the best gifts come in the ugliest packages. Please lock elbows with me and join the Cancer Schmancer Movement. So together we can do what needs to be done, so less of us will die prematurely.‘‘

Typically, after the doctor calls to tell someone they have cancer, he goes home to dinner and the cancer patient goes home to eat her heart out. So often, gynecological cancers mime other ailments like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (I.B.S.). It’s a recurring tragedy where doctors frequently “hear hoof beats” and automatically assume it’s the sound of a horse when it could be a zebra. I want to make sure women don’t assume their doctor is infallibly correct and that every diagnosis is accurate.

Doctors are human, not gods, and mistakes are made far too often. I also want to recognize the importance of caregivers in the family. Too often, they are seriously affected by cancer and their hard work and vital contribution is overlooked.

What’s next for you? How can your “Fran Fans” stay up-to-date?
Our next phase is to create the “Cancer Answer Movement.” We have become a nation obsessed with “the cure for cancer” but not prevention which I believe is the cancer answer.

We must shift the paradigm to a new trajectory where we equate our actions and habits with poor health and cancer causing activities. We are causing cancer with the chemicals we use to clean our homes, questionable personal care
products (including anti-perspirants) and beauty products, what we eat, our use of aluminum, plastics, pesticides and other carcinogenic products.

We must start slowly, but we must start. I plan to create a celebrity driven campaign using social media and celebrity endorsements to educate and inform.

We will reach children from elementary school through high school and adult consumers thru home “Trash cancer” parties (like Tupperware™ parties without the plastics) and show consumers how to live in ways that are healthy and carcinogen free.

“Trash Cancer,” powered by Fran’s Cancer Schmancer Movement, educates on carcinogens and toxic chemicals in consumer products, inspires families to become smart consumers and empowers individuals to advocate for safer chemical use.

We plan to get a bill passed in Congress that will invite corporations, at their expense, to create products that will include a “carcinogen free” stamp so consumers can purchase products with the knowledge that they are safe without having to spend enormous time educating themselves. In short, we plan to introduce a bill to Congress, engage thru education and awareness and get it passed. I’ve done it before and I can do it again-create a celebrity driven campaign using social media and celebrity endorsements to educate and inform.

With a thriving acting career and your steadfast dedication to Cancer Schmancer, do you have any downtime? If so, how do you spend it?
I walk on the beach, hike, I do Pilates and I am a “culture-aholic.” I enjoy museums, music, food, art, time with friends and family, travel and spiritual pursuits. After getting to know Fran, anyone would come away inspired, educated, delighted (and more than a little awestruck) by her accomplishments and ongoing endeavors. We know you will feel the same and hope you will visit her websites and social media sites to learn about Fran, her best-selling books, The
CancerSchmancer Movement, and to become enlightened, involved and engaged.

To get more involved, or to donate, please visit these sites:
www.cancerschmancer.org
www.trashcancer.org
http://www.facebook.com/drescher
http://www.facebook.com/cancerschmancer

Fran Drescher - Cancer Schmancer Cancer Schmancer Movement

As a uterine cancer survivor, Fran Drescher was misdiagnosed and mistreated for a peri-menopausal condition that she didn’t have. Her doctors told her she was experiencing symptoms because of a long list of reasons. She was too young, too thin, even eating too much spinach!

Finally after two years and eight doctors, an endometrial biopsy confirmed her greatest fear; she had gynecologic cancer. In 2002, she wrote Cancer Schmancer, to tell her story of survival and to ensure what happened to her wouldn’t happen to others. After a book tour, she realized that what happened to her had happened to so many women like her.

She realized the book was not the end but rather the beginning of a life mission to improve womens’ healthcare in America.

Toward this end, Fran started the Cancer Schmancer Movement and the Cancer Schmancer Foundation to transform women from patients into medical consumers and to shift this nation’s priority from searching for a cancer cure, prevention and early detection of cancer.

We met with Cancer Schmancer Vice President Susan Holland backstage at Fran’s hit show Happily Divorced to talk about the Cancer-Schmancer movement and how early detection can save lives.

How long have you been associated with Cancer Schmancer?
I’ve been associated with Cancer Schmancer since the inception in 2005.

How did you meet Fran Drescher?
Well, this is a long but great story if you ask me. We met way back 30 yrs ago. I had a best friend named Judi, who I worked with in a big shoe and clothing boutique. Judi had a best friend, as well, named Fran. I could go on but….

How many volunteers are associated with Cancer Schmancer?
That’s so hard to answer, but never enough. We welcome all, but usually we have active working volunteers when we are putting on any big or small labor intensive events or press launches.

Something we are working on now is to have a Cancer Schmancer group in every city, like Chapters, with a Volunteer Captain, if you will, to spearhead fundraising on going in their hometowns. To get involved, visit the Get Involved! link at CancerSchmancer.org.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
Tough one…..I wear so many hats. I love each area, but it’s always most rewarding when we change someone’s life. I watch Fran speak to thousands of people and their reaction and comments after are rewarding, or when we bring in our screening vans to underprivileged areas, and get more women screened that wouldn’t normally do so…

What are the long-term goals? What’s next?
A big campaign launching our prevention initiative, celeb-based PSA, job opportunities for women, C-free label, our own organic products, etc.

Wow! That’s a lot of exciting initiatives. We all know that leading a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risks of cancer. Can you tell our readers some of the ways they can make adjustments to reduce risks in their everyday lives?
Exercise, drink lots of water, listen to your body, go to the doctor regularly, eat more organic and healthy, read labels and educate yourselves as to what’s bad and what’s good. Visit CancerSchmancer.org.

What about the things that we put on our bodies? Perfumes, deodorants, hair care, any suggestions?
Never use deodorants with aluminum.

Those are all excellent suggestions. Cancer Schmancer looks at ways to reduce the risks of cancer through positive changes in our environment as well. Can you touch on some ways to prevent environmental health hazards?
Encourage carpooling, get rid of plastics, don’t use alkaline water systems, quit smoking.

Tell us about the “Fran van” program…
Cancer Schmancer is proud to partner with Inner Images, Inc. in California and Project Renewal’s Scan Van in New York City to provide women who have limited access, with life-saving cancer screening tests. Together through empowerment, education, and screening tests, we will ensure women with cancer are diagnosed in the earliest stages when it is most curable.

Call our partners to see if you qualify for a free screening.
Los Angeles - 877-426-3926 • New York - 800-564-6868
visit http://scanvan.org/ for the NY screening schedule.

Besides the items we’ve discussed, are there any other actions that you would suggest our readers take?
Join us to become a member of CS, raise $$$ and throw Trash Cancer parties, form volunteer groups, etc.

Where can our readers donate?
Cancerschmancer.org

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One Response to “Lights, Camera, Activist: Fran Drescher & Cancer Schmancer”
  1. There is definately a great deal to find out about this topic.

    I like all the points you’ve made.

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