From Saturday Night Fever to This Is Spinal Tap to The Nanny, Fran Drescher has used Hollywood’s most distinctive nasal twang to carve out a successful career as an actress. But while her charm transcended — or, more likely, accentuated — her New Yawk drawl, Drescher's success in overcoming several harsh obstacles, including cancer, showed the world the strength of her character, as well. The author of a memoir called Cancer Schmancer, Drescher formed an organization in 2007 called the Cancer Schmancer Movement, dedicated to having all women’s cancers diagnosed in stage one. Now, Drescher is bringing all of this experience to The Fran Drescher Tawk Show, a daily daytime talker which will be tested in six major markets, including New York and Los Angeles, starting Friday, Nov. 26. Drescher spoke to AARP about the new show, and how she got here.
Q: Tell us about some of the things we can expect to see on the new show.
A: I’m going to have family and friends on, and it’ll have a familial, almost slight reality edge to it. I’ll have segments like, “There Outta be a Law,” where I get Americans involved in how laws get made. I want to unify Americans, in contrast to many other things we watch on TV that I find to be divisive. And I want to entertain.
Q: What in your show biz experience prepared you for a show like this?
A: In the 10, 11 years since The Nanny has been off the air, I became a cancer survivor, I wrote my second New York Times best-selling book, I became a woman's activist who started a woman’s health movement and I received a position from the U.S. State Department. I’m sent all over the world as a representative of the U.S. to speak to women about self-empowerment.
Q: You’ve done a great job over the years of turning your voice into an asset. Was there a time earlier in your career when it appeared it would hurt you in the business?
A: When I was a teenager, I had an acting teacher who said I wasn’t going to make it with that voice. Initially, I booked a lot of commercials that weren’t speaking parts. Then I lucked out and got Saturday Night Fever, and suddenly I got hooked into that whole wave of Laverne & Shirley, the Fonz, Welcome Back, Kotter, and all of these were celebrating people with New York accents. I was young and fresh and new, and I was lucky, because I worked a lot.
Q: Tell us about the Cancer Schmancer Movement.
A: It took me two years and eight doctors to get a proper diagnosis, and by the grace of God I was still in stage one. I wrote Cancer Schmancer because I didn't want what happened to me to happen to other people. Many Americans face mistreatment and misdiagnoses and, for many, a late stage cancer diagnosis as a consequence.
“Stage one is the cure” became one of our mission statements. All too often, the reason we lose loved ones to cancer is because of late stage diagnoses. A lot of women don’t know what the early warning whispers are of the cancers that could affect them. They’re told that there are no symptoms for certain diseases that are almost always caught in late stages, which is not true. We’re not really being offered all the tests that are available to us because we’re all victimized by big business health insurance, [which] evaluates what tests we get based off of a mean. If you’re not the right age or profile, you may not get the test.
I fell through the cracks, because I was actually too young and too thin to get uterine cancer. Also, [we need more] education, because we don’t know our own bodies. Half the women say to me, “I had a Pap test.” It’s like, honey, a Pap test doesn’t cover anything north of the cervix. Your uterus and your ovaries are whistling Dixie, and all we’re getting is this archaic bimanual pelvic that I think they were doing in the 1800s. We can have a transvaginal ultrasound to show any abnormalities, but we’re not being offered that.
Q: After you were diagnosed, how did you come to a place where you were able to have a positive mindset about it?
A: Writing the book was the most cathartic thing for me, because I was very angry. I felt screwed over by the medical community. I had to get a radical hysterectomy to cure my cancer, and I hadn’t had children. That’s a difficult operation for any woman, but for one who’s never had children, like myself, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. And I thought I was going to die, initially, before I found out I was in stage one. I never imaged that this could happen to me. I was everybody’s caregiver. I was always the strong one. How could I be the one to get cancer? But it was my opportunity to reach out and ask for help, and let other people take care of me for a change. It’s helped shape me into a more balanced human being as a result.
Q: Do you believe that a positive mindset can genuinely help someone conquer the disease?
A: It’s very important, because cancer is a slice of the pie in your life, and if you give it power, then it’s taking over the whole pie. You’re doing yourself a great disservice, because side by side with pain lies joy. You gotta play the hand that’s dealt you — you have no choice. You pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and you go on.