In 2000, Fran Drescher, who many remember for her role as Fran Fine on TV's The Nanny, was finally diagnosed with uterine cancer. But it wasn't a simple diagnosis. In fact, Fran pursued the correct diagnosis for two years, seeing eight doctors, going undiagnosed and misdiagnosed, before she knew she had a diagnosis that made sense.
Eight doctors? Yes -- that means seven "second" opinions, all but one of which were wrong. It's possible that had she not pursued so many additional opinions, Fran might not be with us today. Fortunately, she was diagnosed in Stage I and was treated successfully.
Yes - Fran is most definitely alive, healthy, vibrant and very busy today. In fact, she has parlayed her very frightening experience into a positive for millions. She has taken a journey from misdiagnosed patient to author to motivator to global crusader.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Fran about her journey:
Q. Tell me about your misdiagnosis. How did you know you weren’t getting the right answers from the doctors?
A. For two years, I was bleeding 24/7 and being prescribed different treatments that did not work. I had classic uterine cancer symptoms, but those symptoms mimic so many other diseases. It was easier to treat the problem if it was benign, and that's the kind of treatment I got, including doses of estrogen which only make uterine cancer grow. Despite the fact that the doctors and I heard hooves galloping, we were looking for horses not zebras. Did you know Anne Bancroft died of uterine cancer?
Q. Looking back, do you understand how they missed your diagnosis? Or do you feel as if they missed obvious clues?
A. I blame myself as much as those doctors. We have become infantile because we let the doctors make our decisions for us. But I'm a bit of a control freak, and I kept going to doctors, so my pursuit of the right answers was my own growth from ignorance through tenacity. I realize no one else should have power of attorney over my body.
Q. Was it necessary to undergo a more difficult treatment regimen because your diagnosis had been delayed?
A. The cure for my cancer was a radical hysterectomy. Since I was still in Stage I, I didn't need post-operative treatment.
Q. What was your state of mind once you finally got a diagnosis that would steer you in the right treatment directions?
A. It had a huge emotional impact. I didn't have children, and had finally fallen in love with someone I wanted to have children with. I felt like I had been betrayed by my body and the medical community. I was frightened, drew up a will, and was connecting dots that weren't there. I thought my days were numbered. My friend Elaine reminded me that I should not mix imagination and fear because it's a deadly cocktail.
Q. How has that experience changed the way you approach symptoms and your interface with doctors today?
A. I've become a medical consumer – I take nothing as gospel. I utilize the Internet, and demand a level of attention and respect. I look for certain characteristics in doctors, and if necessary, I'm quick to decide if this is not the doctor for me.
Q. After you healed from your surgery, you began writing your book, Cancer Schmancer. What made you decide to write it?
A. I needed to start taking control of an out of control situation. It was extremely cathartic. It took me four drafts before I could go from angry to funny.
Q. And then you founded your organization and movement, Cancer Schmancer. What are your goals? What do you hope people will learn?
A. When I went on my book tour, I realized the same thing had happened to millions of others -- a late stage diagnosis. And those people wanted to know how they could help. I realized that there’s an army of foot soldiers – needing a Moonie! Since I was high profile story, I could be heard.
Since then I have successfully helped lobby to pass the Gynecologic Cancer Education and Awareness Act of 2005 which was signed into law by President Bush. It amends the Public Health Service Act and requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to campaign nationally to improve the knowledge of providers and women about the early warning signs and risks involved with gynecologic cancers.
Q. And now diplomacy?
A. Yes. As a U.S. State Department diplomat, I go abroad to show that we are more female friendly, and to bring greater vision to women's health. This is a way to expand the same message I have been bringing to American women. Stage I is the cure -- that message is being heard all over the world now.
Q. What's next for Fran Drescher? Where will your advocacy take you?
A. It's a natural progression. I recognize that our skin is the largest organ of the body and yet what we put on our skin is an unregulated industry. Most of the products we put on our skin are filled with carcinogens! So I'm launching a 21st century model for what skin care will be. Products that won't harm a woman, won't harm our environment, have not harmed animals as they have been tested. Part of the proceeds will go to Cancer Schmancer.
I'm also interested in launching a new talk show to shed light on controversial issues, to talk about things I'm passionate about.
Cancer Schmancer is getting ready to send 11 "Fran Vans" into low income neighborhoods to help uninsured women to get early detection education, in an effort to bring down mortality rates from women's cancers. The idea is to help women detect problems before they are too far along, and to provide them with education materials.
I have a big life. It's meaningful and purposeful. I turned a negative into a positive.
Would you like to help Fran spread her message?
Read Fran's book, Cancer Schmancer.
Learn more about Fran's new skin care products, called FranBrand.
Watch this video of Fran talking about her work.