A review by David Borzo
Francine Joy “Fran” Drescher is a story teller. She clearly loves a good story and loves sharing them, especially when they illustrate important lessons learned. Twists and turns, success and failure, Ms. Drescher brought it all to the Smart Talk crowd at the Des Moines Civic Center on Monday night. As the kick off speaker for the 2010 Smart talk series, Ms. Drescher showed her star power and charisma, keeping the audience engaged with affecting stories of love, careers and health. She shared her survivor’s philosophy that when plans for the future don’t pan out like you want, you need to let go and write a new future.
Fran Drescher has had a lot of plans rewritten. With her successful career in T.V. and movies (she’s appeared in over 20 films) she is of course best known for the television series The Nanny, which she co-created and produced. She was also nominated for an Emmy and Golden Globe Award for The Nanny. But Ms. Drescher can’t be neatly squared away in the archetypal TV celebrity files; she is also a screenwriter, political and social activist, author and producer…and is currently serving as a US diplomatic envoy, taking her message of women’s health to the world stage.
Ms. Drescher related back throughout her presentation to another important life lesson that she relies on: there is always opportunity—and when opportunity presents itself, you need to seize it. Carpe diem is her mantra, and of course, there was a good story to go along, a chance meeting on a flight to Europe in the early ‘90s. She had purchased her ticket, but then decided to use her frequent flyer miles to upgrade to first class. Low and behold, she found herself sitting next to Jeff Sagansky, an executive at CBS. As they crossed the Atlantic, they talked about a series she was developing, featuring her quirky style as the focus of a show. By the time they landed, she had convinced him to take a meeting with her to discuss the production. Of course the show was The Nanny, which was an instant success on CBS, making Fran Drescher a star.
By the end of The Nanny’s six year run though, Ms. Drescher had much more to think about. She was having serious health issues, and her marriage was on its last leg. By the time The Nanny closed down in 1999, she was divorced. And the next year, after two years of misdiagnosis by eight doctors, Drescher was diagnosed with uterine cancer, and underwent an immediate radical hysterectomy. Fortunately the cancer was in stage one. This led to another mantra: “Stage one is the cure” and she began efforts advocating that women insist on early cancer screening and curing it in the early stages. In an interview with USA TODAY, Ms. Drescher said “Nobody knows your body better than you…remember back in the days…when you went to your doctor, listed your symptoms and let them take over from there? Well, those days are over.”
Ms. Drescher encouraged the Smart Talk crowd Monday to listen to the early whispers of possible cancer…get the endometrial test if you think something is wrong. Don’t wait. She said that after surgery she felt like she had been dealt an unfair hand. But then she realized that we have no control over what we’re dealt, so at least handle it with dignity. Another lesson learned, so she wrote about her experiences in her second book, Cancer Schmancer, counseling men and women “to become more aware of the early warning signs of cancer, and to empower themselves.” An important challenge for us all, and a stirring beginning to the 2010 Smart Talk series!
Seizing the day, Fran Drescher started the Cancer Schmancer Movement, a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all women’s cancers be diagnosed while in Stage ONE, the most curable stage. More information can be found on her website at cancerschmancer.org.