Everyone’s favorite flashy girl from Flushing, Fran Drescher is well known on-screen for her unique voice and her infectious laugh; one could even say that she’s famous for being funny. Off-screen, however, the star of “Happily Divorced” lends her famous voice to a very serious cause that is no laughing matter: reforming health care in America and across the globe. She has served as a public diplomacy envoy for women’s health issues for the U.S. State Department, where she has assisted in launching lifesaving legislature. She’s also set out to change the conversation about cancer by starting her own nonprofit organization, Cancer Schmancer, which focuses on early detection and prevention.
Drescher’s passionate activism is fueled by personal experience. In her book, “Cancer Schmancer,” she chronicles her cancer. Although she’s now cancer-free, dealing with the diagnostic process could have been fatal, as it took two years of testing and eight different doctors before she was finally diagnosed with uterine cancer. As her symptoms escalated without relief, Drescher forged ahead on an odyssey for answers.
“It’s part of my nature to want to be in control and take charge of the situation,” she muses. “But we need to transform the idea from being a patient into being a medical consumer; we can be victimized by the medical community and big business when we’re patients.
“I was lucky that uterine cancer is a slower-growing cancer, as opposed to ovarian cancer, which grows quickly and is often undetected until later, as most cancers mimic benign illnesses in their early stages. There are doctors who have diagnosed early-stage ovarian cancer as irritable bowel syndrome. Most doctors will not investigate thoroughly; there’s this idea that if you hear galloping and you see a horse, you shouldn’t look for a zebra. That’s great and all, until you realize that there really was a zebra. If we could spot the zebras — if we could detect cancers early — 95 percent of people would be cured. Stage I, that’s the cure,” Drescher firmly states.
Drescher believes that a lot of our attitudes about health care come down to how society has been conditioned; we simply haven’t been programmed to be proactive about health care. Indeed, just the word patient implies patience and waiting. And if we’re waiting for someone else to take charge of our health, we’d better be patient, because we’ll be waiting a long time. “No one else can take charge of our health but our own selves,” says Drescher. It’s time to move away from this passive stance as a patient into a stance that’s alert and ready to take action — the medical-consumer model.
After successfully advocating for herself, Drescher has taken her advocacy public with the advent of her nonprofit organization, Cancer Schmancer. Cancer Schmancer is dedicated to urging a shift toward whole-body wellness by raising awareness and educating consumers about prevention and early detection. “Cancer Schmancer has the cancer answer,” says Drescher. “Early detection saves lives. It is the cure that we’ve all been waiting for.”
And you may not have to wait too long. If you live in Los Angeles or New York City, Cancer Schmancer has taken its crusade to the streets, with mobile screening units. In California, they have partnered with Inner Images, Inc. to have a “Fran Van” that services the entire state of California. In New York City, they’ve partnered with Project Renewal on the “Fran Scan Van.”
As for the whole-body wellness initiative, Drescher believes that this is one of the most important aspects of healing. “Stress kills,” she say. “It creates more disease than anything else. It’s proven that unaddressed emotion will reveal itself physically, like with ulcers, for instance. That’s what they really need to teach in schools and at home — how to express emotions, understand your body and have a whole experience. It’s so important, but it’s seldom recognized. We will see a shift,” Drescher remarks optimistically.
Although the United States is considered to be a progressive nation, in many ways we are falling behind other countries when it comes to health care. This is evidenced by the fact that we do not have a health care system that focuses on illness prevention by emphasizing wellness and risk reduction; instead we have an illness management system that caters to living with chronic disorders, many of which could be prevented with lifestyle changes.