Whatever life throws at Fran Drescher, she takes in stride—and turns it into a win. After being diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2000 and undergoing a radical hysterectomy, she penned a best-selling memoir, Cancer Schmancer, and created a foundation of the same name, Cancerschmancer.org—her way of thumbing her nose at the disease and helping other women beat it.
Now the star of the ’90s sitcom The Nanny is writing, starring in and producing TV Land’s Happily Divorced, based on Fran’s real-life split from long-time collaborator Peter Marc Jacobson. (The season finale airs Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 10:30pm on TV Land.) Jacobson’s post-divorce revelation that he is gay is a major part of the show’s storyline, with sometimes poignant, often comical results. “At some point you have to stop kicking, screaming and crying, and play the hand that’s been dealt to you as courageously as you possibly can,” Fran says.
We talked to Fran, 55, about embracing her role as a 12-year cancer survivor, her new vegan diet, and how she learned to laugh again.
Spry: Many survivors just want to put the experience of cancer behind them, but you’ve stayed so involved. Why?
Fran: I felt betrayed by the medical community, having been misdiagnosed for so long, and by my own body. I felt out of control, which is not like me. I needed to gain back a sense of myself. I wrote Cancer Schmancer to prevent other people from having the same experience. Then I realized that was just the beginning of a life-long mission.
Spry: What did you aim to do with the foundation?
Fran: We focus on prevention and early detection. We say, “If you catch it on arrival, it’s 95 percent survival.” And a preventive lifestyle is best—not to get it in the first place.
Spry: How have you kept your sense of humor?
Fran: I was bitter after my surgery— I was in love and we’d been talking about having a baby. But my boyfriend said I wouldn’t heal as long as I was angry. So that’s when I began to think about the book. Writing it forced me to remember things in hindsight that were actually really funny. Once I struck that note, I never let it go. It’s saved me a million times over.
Spry: What’s your best piece of advice for cancer survivors?
Fran: Become something better than you were before, whether it is how you relate to your family, or how compassionate you are as a human being. I always say that turning pain into purpose is very healing.
Spry: How has becoming a vegan affected how you feel?
Fran: It’s unbelievable how different I feel. I had various symptoms that were being treated separately. Eventually, I realized they were all related to my cancer treatment. They removed lymph nodes, which filter what your body takes in, so my filtration system is compromised. But eating cleaner helps draw the toxins out.
Spry: How do you stay fit?
Fran: I do Pilates, and I like to walk and hike. If I have a stressful day of work at the studio, no matter how tired I am, I take a brisk walk.
Spry: What do you have on your bucket list?
Fran: I still think about raising a child. I think about living in a foreign country and becoming comfortable in a foreign culture. I think about working more in Washington—and even becoming an elected official!