Thursday, 23 July 2015

"Cancer Schmancer" by Fran Drescher

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Please, try to imagine a movie star you like very much. Probably this person is rich, beautiful and admired not only by you. Some people are probably secretly jealous of her wonderful and sugary life and maybe they would be happy if they had a chance to interchange with her. Most of us take for granted that the gained popularity ensures happiness and the people watching on the small screen are the elects of the fate who do not have any everyday worries. Maybe are there only the appearances? Are we sure that any personal drama, which is not mentioned about, does not hide behind a snow-white smile because you cannot disappoint your loyal fans, and above all, you cannot give a cheap fodder to the press seeking it.

As we know some autobiographies appear on the publishing market from time to time. They are the response to the ever interest in the private life of public figures. Apart from the books associated with the difficulties in the achievement of the fame and praising the advantages of being recognized, there are also publications that describe some important topics and social problems. Such a record of experiences often has tremendous impacts on the strength not only to the fans of the writer but also the wider public.  

Fran Drescher is primarily known for the TV series "The Nanny". There she played the role of a go-getting nanny of three children employed by a lonely widower called Maxwell Sheffield. Her distinctive voice is known to the viewers for her episodic role in the legendary film called “Saturday Night Fever” where she dances with one of the most famous American actor – John Travolta. Looking at the Fran Drescher’s filmography it is hard to imagine a moment when she does not infect other people with her unique laughter. Meanwhile the private life of the very popular person coming from Flushing[1], unfortunately, has not been idyllic. In 1985 Fran Drescher fell victim to the brutal assault when her house was attacked by a gang of robbers. However, the criminals did not stop at the looting of her residence which certainly left an incredible mark on the delicate psyche of the future performer of Miss Fine’s role. The years were passing and it seemed that everything what worst had been over and the whole limit of bad luck had run out. However, in October 1997 the fate got difficult times to Fran again which shook the entire stabilized world. Just in this place a very personal diary of the comedy star begins. In her diary she describes her difficult experience lasting in the course of just over four years. In this way Fran Drescher has become a model of the power, determination and hope for thousands of women in the whole world.

Fran Drescher
A divorce in Hollywood spheres is something remarkably universal, although there are couples of people who seem to contradict the nasty statisticians. Peter Marc Jacobson and Fran Drescher complemented each other both in their private and professional life in perfectly way for a long time. Their joint project, which they are well-known for up till today, just celebrated the great success. At that time the married couple, knowing each other from the secondary school times, decided on the parting. However, this difficult situation was only a prelude to another trouble. Soon it turned out that the CBS channel was going to cease broadcasting “The Nanny” after six seasons. They decided that the main star of this popular sitcom would give the message to the viewers. It would be the best solution of this uncomfortable situation. The authorities of the CBS channel also told Fran Drescher to take all the blame for finishing the production upon herself.   

However, the real drama which was supposed to influence the future of the famous actress, took place mainly after turning off the cameras and at first she did not realize that the worst experience would only happen. The subtle symptoms, which most women are used to regarding as something transitional, were the beginning of a bumpy road for our heroine in search for the conclusive and difficult diagnosis. Your best bet is to think that everything will fall into place as soon as the situation in the private and professional life normalizes. However, this is not happening. At some point it becomes obvious that these ailments can be a symptom of something serious.

"Cancer Schmancer" is about the difficult experience in the struggle against the horrible disease which can affect anyone regardless of race, origin or financial status. It might seem that in the case of the public person the road from the first anxiety to the proper diagnosis should be a little bit simpler than usual. This story proves that this is not always the case. While reading I got the impression that the specialists still ignored the growing health problems of the artist for a long time. How many of them thought that the woman was a hypochondriac who because of her profession, where you primarily play on people’s emotions, exaggerated everything? The patient heard that there probably was a premenopausal state and the next doctor was sure that it was only a result of too much amount of spinach in her diet. A lot of unanswered questions made Fran felt cheated by the medical community, but she also knew that she had to find out the truth before it would be too late in order to change anything. The eight doctors (you are reading well: E-I-G-H-T) were essential so that the author of this book heard the news which she was most afraid of. She had uterine cancer.

While the narration of this book is led with a slight grain of salt, there is a layer of intelligent irony under which the really painful experience is hidden that the author tries to tame in her own way. Sometimes it is even a therapeutic return to the most painful pre-disease memories. My first feeling was that I should not reach for this book because even as a declared fan of the famous nanny, I do not have the right to learn about such as an intimate part of her life. Probably Fran Drescher had to realize that her history would be interpreted widely in the media. In spite of her publisher’s requests in order to omit certain details, the narrator is a devastatingly honest both to readers and to herself. She does not hide her weaknesses and sometimes uncontrollable temperament showing that despite the wide possibilities associated with the health care, she had the same dilemma as other people fighting with an insidious disease.

In her diary the American woman describes all her examinations in a great detail. She does not omit even the most intimate trifles. We can see her without makeup even in moments which many patients do not want to share even with the closest family members. Such an accurate description of her experience shows how important for the narrator is to provide the readers, who may someday find themselves in a similar situation, that it is worth fighting over themselves no matter how much adversity they will meet on their road.

The greatest impression is how openly the star talks about her emotions in moments when she was alone only with her own thoughts. The fear of diagnosis, treatment or acceptance of a partner is the same at any latitude but when a woman, who lives in a world where everything must be perfect, talks about them, you can consider this as a sign of extraordinary courage. Fran could not afford the comfort of surviving hard times only surrounded by their loved ones because the media quickly learnt about her operation. Someone can say that it is a small price while you can hire two private nurses and a good hospital. But would each of us bear such a great public being interested in the state of our health?

The book tells not only about the pain but also about the importance of the closest surroundings’ support. The artist devotes much space to describe her relationships with her family and friends. Although the woman is the person who does not like asking for help and torment others with her problems, she could always count on the acceptance and patience of her loved ones. Moreover it is worthwhile attracting our attention to the fact that in the moment of doubt a contact with the nature and a exceptional relation of the owner with her doggy called Chester also turned out to be very important.

The diary is finished after over a year from the operation which saved the life of the famous actress who played a nanny. Defeating the source of the problem is often only the beginning of a very difficult road to recovery. The emotional layer often heals more slowly than the physical wounds. There is still the fear of the recurrence and acceptance of the consequences of changes which you cannot reverse. Fran Drescher proves that the return to full strength is possible but it requires a lot of time. “Cancer Schmancer” tells us to put in the place of the main character what makes this book a valuable clue and a source of hope for those who directly or indirectly experience the cancer problems. Of course, in this book we will not find any obvious recipes and ensuring that everything will be fine, but rather an example of the way how to find the strength to overcome the disease. I think that this book is perfect not only for the readers who struggle with cancer but also for people who support patients so that they can understand, although in a certain way, their difficult emotions that accompany during the fight and recovery. Of course, not everyone can be the addressee of this story because it is throughout saturated by the American mentality and their characteristic sense of humour. But I have no doubt that for many this book will be one of the most important books on the shelf. It is a great pity that so far nobody has decided to translate this book into Polish.

Fran Drescher and the presenter Alfons Haider at the charity ball dancer against cancer 
(Hofburg Imperial Palace, Vienna, 2010)
(photo by Manfred Werner)

In the long perspective the release of “Cancer Schmancer” turned out to be a very important turning point in the actress’ life. During the Q&A session with the author, the readers were paying their attention to how essential of hope and help the book proved to be for them. This fact induced Fran Drescher to take an action. What is important, Fran Drescher brought to life The Cancer Schmancer Movement on the seventh anniversary of her operation. It was June 21, 2007. This organization focuses on promoting the early detection and prevention of cancer in women. While the world of science is searching for the effective medicine, the organization demonstrates how you can minimize the risk of falling ill, and if it fails, you can find out how to pay attention to capture the moment when you must go to your doctor. There are three main pillars of the action:
  1. Early detection – the important issue actually depends on us. First of all we have to notice that we begin to feel differently. Then it is necessary to consult a doctor who will deny or confirm our fears. You may find that this is something much less serious than at first we thought, or we can reduce the chance of the disease’s existence. The flagship project called Fran Van is the research program of mammography allowing for the detection of cancer in the initial phrase of the coming into existence which provides easier and more effective treatment. On the official website of the organization you can read about the symptoms which should alarm us; how to prepare for the first conversation in the doctor’s office and what you should ask about. The stories of people who won their fight against cancer are a source of hope for others.
  2. Prevention – according to saying that prevention is better than curing. According to the estimates only 10-15 percent of cancers are genetically[2] determined, and the rest is the result of different environmental factors such as lifestyle, the way of feeding or the exhibition to the sun which we have some influence on. Sometimes there are really simple and cheap solution e.g. quitting smoking, or finding a few moments to physical activity can help reduce the risk of the appearance of the disease. Of course, we do not live in the ideal world where we can afford only to eat the natural food and living without stress, but the Detox Your Home action shows that these are not the only problems. In our homes there are plenty of hidden dangers we have no idea about them. Potentially ingredients included in cosmetics or chemical household detergents are dangerous for us. The Cancer Schamancer Movement teaches us which substances should be avoided and how to find the alternative solutions, healthier both for us and for the environment.
  3. The policy change – Fran Drescher is also a lobbyist on Capitol Hill. She was a supporter of the law Carcinogen-FREE Label ACT which was introduced in 2012 in the United States to label clearly the products free from carcinogens.
It is amazing that scarcely 256 pages of the memories turned out to be really important for many people. You may not like the distinctive voice of the actress and not watch the films where she appeared, but it is worth appreciating how she could forge her own experience to make aware others. For many patients her story is a source of hope and proof that you can defeat cancer. Perhaps the fact that just now you are reading these words is not accidental, so stop for a moment and think when you have done your checkups recently. Maybe it is the right time to think about your health and take care of yourself?

 If you want to read this review in Polish, please click here.

[1] Flushing – one of the parts of Queens District located in the north-central part of New York in the United States.
[2] Based on:

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