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From Fran Drescher, here’s the funny and empowering New York Times bestseller about taking charge of health problems and finding humor in the face of adversity.
Part inspirational cancer-survival story, part memoir-as-a-laughriot, CANCER SCHMANCER picks up where Fran’s last book, Enter Whining, left off. After the publication of that book, Fran’s life launched into a downward spiral. She separated from a long and complicated relationship, her TV series started to slip in the ratings, and the health of her beloved dog Chester was failing fast. Then came the mysterious symptoms no doctor could explain. With her trademark sense of humor, Fran tells of her long search for answers and the cancer diagnosis that she ultimately beat. But not before a gold mine of insights were revealed to her about the importance of taking charge of your own health and recognizing what’s most important in life.
In this book, the identities of doctors, nurses, and others have been obscured or their names have been changed, including Vincenzo, Enid, Harriet, Tom, Sue, John, Marsha Rifkin, Richie, Lucy, Wanda, Marty, Yolanda, and Larry.
Copyright © 2002 by Fran Drescher
All rights reserved.
Warner Books, Inc.,
Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Visit our website at www.HachetteBookGroup.com.
First eBook Edition: May 2002
I dedicate this book to women with cancer,
those who lost the battle,
those who won,
and those who continue to fight.
Good health and good sense are two of life's
—Publius Syrus (42 B.C.)
I thank the angels who guide me.
I bless the loved ones who support me.
All my gratitude and appreciation to:
My mother and father, who stood strong so that I could be weak.
My sister, who's not only an extremely smart nurse, but my lifelong friend.
Elaine, my great friend, second mother, and brilliant manager.
Peter, who lovingly opened his heart, which meant the world to me.
Rachel, who defines the words courage, intelligence, and friendship.
My therapist, for setting me free.
Kathryn, the most loving, caring right arm a girl could ever hope for.
Howie, who's not only a devoted friend, but who also tirelessly edited and researched this book.
My surgeon, who saved my life and fights the good fight on behalf of women everywhere.
All the doctors and nurses who helped me and are committed to helping others each and every day.
Everyone at Warner Books who believed my story should be told.
John, the man I love, who valiantly and selflessly went to battle by my side and is now and forever my hero. His compassion and strength made all the difference.
There I was in pre-op, awaiting my surgery. The makeup and hair team had done their usual best, natural and contemporary. The 60 Minutes camera crew had created a surprisingly flattering light. Lesley Stahl was witty and sympathetic as we chatted about The Nanny, my career, and the projects I'd be working on next. After I recovered from surgery, of course.
As they began to put away their equipment, my dear friend Nicole Kidman stopped by to offer encouragement. Kissing me on the forehead, she slyly tucked a film treatment under my pillow. It was titled Best Friends, and she had her heart set on my costarring. What a doll! The project probably wouldn't ever happen, but just the fact that she'd thought of me meant so much.
While the orderly began to wheel me to the O.R. I thought, He's not coming. But then the hallway's double doors burst open and I heard the words, "Stop! Wait!"
"Brad, you came. You're so sweet," I said, noticing the stir Brad Pitt's presence was creating among the nurses. "I can't believe you came."
"Of course I came. You're having surgery, for God's sake," he responded, then kissed me softly on the lips. Wow, that was a first. And not bad, either.
"But what about Jennifer?" I asked, feeling like the other woman, more than a little embarrassed that this conversation was happening in public.
"That was a mistake, Fran," he replied. Then, leaning over, he whispered in my ear, "I love you."
"Oh, Brad, are you sure? Do you realize I have cancer?" I asked.
Fearlessly and eloquently, he responded, "Cancer schmancer!"
Boy, if only life were like the movies . . . .
The reality of the situation was quite different. Worried Jews (my family) were everywhere, crying, commiserating, and gorging themselves on Belgian chocolates. The nurse stuck stupid-looking blue hospital booties on my feet, which made me look like an oversize Smurf.
The orderly kept knocking my gurney around corners and through doorways like a drunk trying to drive through an obstacle course. There were no celebrities, no Lesley Stahl, and no cameras. In fact, in a vain attempt to keep my condition secret from the press, a towel had been placed over my face so I wouldn't be recognized. I was half comatose from the heavy sedation and wore a dopey grin on my face as drool dripped from my mouth. Definitely not the movies, but my life and welcome to it!
I thought of Donna, my dear old friend whom I'd met years ago on the film Dr. Detroit. She once took two days to tell her mom about a death in the family. I told her I couldn't believe how long she'd sat on the news. "Why?" she asked. "How would you have done it?"
Was she kiddin' me, or what? "With my family, if I walked into the room and said, 'Ma, I have something to tell you,' she would have screamed, 'Who died?' and in ten minutes half of Queens would have known." For me, life is loud, hearty, and full to the brim. Whatever I do, I do with gusto.
I was a chubby kid from Queens raised in a humble home by working-class parents. Somewhere along the line I moved to California, married my high-school sweetheart, got raped, became a famous TV star, divorced my high-school sweetheart, confronted my fears, lost the TV show, fell in love again, and got cancer. Whew! Whose life is that, anyway? I still can't believe it's mine. I didn't know I was going to write a book about the last couple of years, but this bout with cancer changed everything so profoundly I felt compelled to share my experience. I mean, if my last book—Enter Whining—was Star Wars, this, my friend, is The Empire Strikes Back.
Simply put, don't let what happened to me happen to you! I'm not a doctor (and no, I've never played one on TV, either), nor do I claim to have all the answers, but I do think you can learn from my experience.
Over a two-year period I saw seven different doctors in search of a diagnosis for my symptoms. I fell through the cracks every step of the way. It didn't matter that I was the Nanny and everyone loved the show. I didn't know what to ask for, and I wasn't offered all available tests that could have diagnosed me. So for two years I walked around with a progressively worsening cancer and none of these doctors, not one, offered me the simple test that ultimately detected it. Maybe they thought I was too young. Too young for uterine cancer, but just ripe for a perimenopausal hormone imbalance. Please, I could not accept I was beginning my menopause at the very moment I was single and entering my sexual peak! No way. And thank God I didn't, because nothing could have been further from the truth.
We need to educate ourselves about our bodies. Women need to understand gynecological cancers and the tests that can help detect them. We should know what's out there. We should hear our options. We should be in control. Once you wake up and smell the coffee, it's hard to go back to sleep! Let me sound the alarm. Since it's not my intention to point fingers at individual doctors, I don't name the names of those physicians I went to along the way. They're no different, no better, no worse, than the doctors you may encounter in your neck of the woods. It's not about them, it's about you. Us. We're the ones who must change, if we ever expect there to be change. We have to take control of the situation, become educated consumers, network among ourselves, and gain information and insight into getting diagnosed and getting treatment. Someone gimme a podium!
I've tried to be as honest as I can. Even my editor said, "Fran, I don't think we need to go into such detail about the change in your stool." Nu? I share my struggles, my pain, the knowledge I've gained, and the relationship I have with my boyfriend, who stood by me through it all.
If what follows impresses just one thing on you, I hope it's to never be passive when it comes to your health. Open a mouth! Assume that doctors, being human, are fallible, and remember that nobody knows your body as well as you do. Don't be an ostrich, either. A problem doesn't go away simply because you choose to ignore it. I promise you, the day will come when you can ignore it no more. And that's when the shit hits the fan. Trust me, early detection is crucial.
Although getting cancer was probably the worst thing that's ever happened to me (did I say "probably"?), there have been so many wonderful silver linings, too. Often, the truly great and valuable lessons we learn in life are learned through pain. That's why they call it "growing pains." It's all about yin and yang. And that's not something you order off column A at your local Chinese restaurant. They're the positives and negatives of life. One doesn't exist without the other. How you experience your pain, what you learn from it, and how you live through it—that's what makes all the difference.
This book is a celebration of life as much as anything. The joy and laughter I experienced with my family and friends, even during the worst of times, are the feelings I hope to leave you with. I definitely know more about women's medicine than I did before the cancer, but most important, I know my loved ones better, and I know how to live life more completely. That's my real triumph.
June 12, 2000
It seemed like any other day, but it wasn't. I was getting dressed to work out. Leesa, my exercise instructor, was already upstairs waiting for me. My housekeepers, Ramon and Angelica, a dear couple from Guadalajara who have worked in my home for years, were cleaning in the kitchen. My dog, Chester, was asleep on the bed. Then the phone rang. It was my gynecolo-gist calling.
"Oh, hi," I said cheerfully.
"I got the results back from your tests. . . ."
"I thought we should talk in my office, but then I figured calling would be easier than having you drive in and then having to drive home again," she rambled. I honestly didn't realize what she was getting at.
"It's okay," I told her, thinking I didn't want to drive in just to talk, either.
Then she said it. "You have adenocarcinoma. I'm very surprised myself."
"What's that?" I asked, still not really understanding.
I immediately burst into tears. She was saying I had cancer. Me. I got so scared. In that instant, my whole world came crashing down.
I'm going to die. This is it. My legs got so weak I dropped onto the bed. I don't want to die. I don't want to be alone. But I was alone with the phone to my ear. This isn't me. There must be some mistake. But it was me she was telling this to. Me, me, and only me. They were my tests that showed these results. My body's turned on me. It's trying to destroy me. Dear God, why? What did I do? Did I do something to deserve this?
Through my fears and tears the doctor got my attention. "Fran, it's in a very early stage. And uterine cancer is very slow growing and much less invasive than other women's cancers." As she spoke, I wrote everything down.
Nothing seemed to be working in my brain. I couldn't think, couldn't cognize this horror. I didn't know what to do. I began to panic. On The Nanny, whenever the shit hit the fan I'd wait a beat and then say, "Okay, here's what we're gonna do," and a whole plan would unfold. People would come to me for answers. But right in that moment I had no answers, no plan, no experience.
I was lost, like when I was a little kid and got lost in a crowd on a busy street. I didn't know where I was or how I'd get home. I couldn't find my parents. I was frightened, so very frightened. Sitting there, I was that little girl all over again.
"What happens now?" I asked.
"You'll need surgery, at least a partial hysterectomy," she answered. A hyster-WHAT? Growing up, my mom talked about relatives who'd had that surgery, and she said they were never the same after. That's what was always said: "She was never the same."
Oh my God, I don't want to become some kind of a freak. Will I still feel like a woman? Who will love me? Will anybody love me? A flood of questions ran through my head, but what came out were deep, guttural sobs.
"They may be able to save your ovaries. I don't know, that's up to the surgeon, so I've made you an appointment with a specialist. She's on the board at Cedars, considered one of the best nationwide, and she's very compassionate."
My hand was shaking as I tried to write everything down. "When?" I asked.
"Friday. That's when she sees new patients."
This is only Monday, what do I do between now and then?
Just the week before, my mother had undergone a D&C for a polyp in her uterus and she was fine. No cancer, no hysterectomy, just a few snips on a benign growth as an outpatient and boom, good as new. That's what I'd been expecting, too. But she'd passed her test and I'd failed mine.
I have cancer? This doesn't make sense. I'm the strong one, the healthy one. Good peasant stock, that's what I'm made of! I took down the surgeon's number and address. She was in the cancer center at Cedars. Cancer center? Where all those really sick people go?
I suddenly thought about Peter, my ex-husband. The man I'd been with since I was fifteen. For more than half my life we were together. Husband and wife, coworkers, codependent friends. Until recently. Just recently when it all came apart, ending in a divorce. All those years, we'd trudged through thick and thin.
I remembered his parents, Pat and Eddie, both brought down in the prime of their lives by lung cancer. How they both went through chemo and radiation treatment. How they both suffered as their bodies slowly wasted away before they finally died. I don't want to go that way. Dear God, I never want to go that way.
The doctor said to call her if I needed anything. "Even if it's just for a hug," she added.
I thanked her, but I'm not sure why. Only a week earlier she'd assured me I didn't have cancer. She'd sat in her office and said, "Fran, you do not have cancer." Those were her exact words, and now all she could say to me was, "I'm very surprised"?
I hung up the phone feeling queasy. My stomach was in knots. If I'd eaten breakfast I'm sure I'd have vomited right then. This was misery of Gothic proportions. That one call became the marker by which my entire life would be divided in two. Before cancer and after.
In the Beginning
I think I need to start at the beginning of my whole health crisis and catch you up to the day I finally got diagnosed. I say "finally" because it took forever—more than two years and eight doctors—before one of them decided to give me a D&C, which stands for "dilatation and curettage," whatever the hell that is. Basically, it's when they scrape tissue from the uterus for biopsy. In the end, this was the only test I needed to find my cancer. Because I was atypical for contracting uterine cancer, at each turn in the road I kept being steered in the wrong direction.
Just when my life had moved into a new place, I began to experience symptoms. When I say "moved into a new place," I mean a place without Peter, my childhood sweetheart and husband for almost twenty years.
One of the hardest things, if not the hardest thing, I've ever done was leaving that man. For me it was like walking through fire, because I was never one to leave anything. I had trouble parting with our old '78 Buick, so leaving the person I'd been with since I was fifteen seemed impossible.
We had a beautiful home, wonderful friends, and together had created our single greatest achievement to date, The Nanny. But I was miserable. When you achieve everything you've ever dreamed of or wanted, and you're still unhappy, the time has come to stop looking without and start looking within. I'd agonized over this for years.
We'd begun to fall apart after the night we became victims of a violent crime, years before. That night was the night that changed everything. Two men with guns broke into our home. They were brothers on a rampage. While one loaded our car with all our valuables, the other, who was out on parole, tied Peter up and raped both me and my girlfriend Judi, who had the misfortune of having joined us for dinner.
I don't think we truly realized the impact that experience had on us, but in fact we were never the same again. If we were insecure about being apart from each other before the attack, afterward we were riddled with fears, suffocated by codependency. We imprisoned ourselves in our home, put bars on the windows and doors, purchased an elaborate security system, and couldn't make a move without looking over our shoulders. We lived with a heightened sense of danger all the time. We couldn't sit in our yard without the alarm's remote panic button. For years we continued to ignite fear in each other. I envied Judi, who got to leave the scene of the crime and live among normal people who weren't scarred by what happened that night.
I remember one afternoon we were taking a walk, in Beverly Hills no less, when a car pulled up alongside us to park. Peter grabbed my arm and we began racing in the opposite direction, imagining that these people were going to hold us up. And all they were doing was parking their car. Clearly, we were in trouble. And it was our marriage that paid the price.
It wasn't all bad, though. We had great times, happy times, and a deeply committed friendship. But marrying your high-school sweetheart, as romantic a notion as that sounds, is probably not the best idea. We were too young, too inexperienced with life, and underdeveloped as individuals. Even though we were extremely compatible in our humor, ethics, food, and art, our greatest compatibility was in how we complemented each other's neuroses.
He was a person of many needs and I needed to be needed. We both had a fear of being abandoned, and that kept each of us from leaving. I was completely out of touch with my own feelings, and he was consumed by his. We loved each other very much, he just had a lot of problems. And so did I. It wasn't until I went into therapy that I began to find some answers. And boy did I get an earful.
At the risk of sounding like a cliché, I needed to find myself. I didn't know who I was as a separate person from Peter. I realized I was a woman who had no opinions apart from my husband's, no identity outside of who I was in the relationship. I was completely codependent, incapable of buying a simple chair or garment without saying, "What do you think, honey?"
I never knew how to apologize to anyone for anything. Not one of my more flattering traits. On The Nanny I obsessively tried to track the trains that would lead me to who was really at fault when something went wrong, because I never wanted to be blamed for anything. I was the same way in my marriage.
Working on The Nanny was, in itself, a monumental undertaking. But doing it while my marriage was falling apart was a killer. Even now, I'm surprised Peter and I managed to pull it off each week. We always thought of the show as our baby, and no matter how hard things became in our personal lives, we tried not to bring them to work. The show must go on. We never missed a day of work. We never shut the show down. And in many ways it was our savior. There remained a real need to be civil to each other even during the hardest of times. That's not to say we never had fights backstage or screaming matches in our office, but they weren't the norm. Thank God.
Ya gotta understand, I never really wanted to leave Peter. I loved him, and he loved me. But I felt so trapped by my problems that despite my crippling fear of being alone, I left. It was after a terrible fight we had. I slept in the guest room. It was the last night I ever spent in our home. My dream house, I once called it. The next morning I checked into a hotel. I knew if I didn't escape, become my own person, and get over my fears once and for all, I wouldn't be happy with him or anybody. The first night I slept in a bed without him, my body twitched and shook from fear. It was that difficult.
Much to my horror, within forty-eight hours word reached the press that we were separated and all hell broke loose. In the middle of the night I got a call from my publicist saying she'd received a tip that the press knew where I was staying and that I had to get out. Reporters were also camped out on the front lawn of our house, where Peter was still living. It was a nightmare. I had never experienced anything like it. And needless to say, it exacerbated the situation tenfold. We were both so raw with pain, guilt, and regret, the last thing we needed was to be put under the tabloid spotlight.
Judi and my manager, Elaine, two of my best girlfriends whom I love dearly, helped me look at apartments out by the beach. Many people said the beach was very medicinal, and I needed all the medicinal I could get, so we all loaded into Elaine's Cadillac and headed west.
That afternoon I found a little one-bedroom right on the ocean. Afterward, the three of us had lunch at a nearby café. I remember Judi gabbing a mile a minute about how cute I could make the place, while Elaine went on and on about what a find an apartment with a sunset view and two parking spaces was. But there I sat, practically comatose, nauseous and in shock, chewing on a tuna sandwich. What was I doing? Letting myself out of the cage I'd put myself into many years before, that's what. So I did it, signed my name on the dotted line of a one-year lease.
It was far from what anyone would expect a famous sitcom star to live in, but for me it was perfect. I didn't want some large house with a lot of rooms. The thought of it scared me. I'd never lived on my own before, not once in forty years. I wanted to be able to see all the rooms as soon as I walked through the front door. I was living my life backwards. At twenty, I'd lived like a forty-year-old; at forty I was living like I was twenty.
The apartment had a living room, a terrace, a fireplace, a little kitchen, a little bedroom, and a little bathroom. I turned the bedroom into an office/dressing room and put my bed in the living room with the fireplace, terrace, and view, more like a great hotel suite than an apartment. I decorated it sparingly with overstuffed, upholstered pieces in shades of white, and picked up a few casual antique tables and dressers.
That sounds easier than it was. I remember one night lying in bed with my dog, Chester, having an anxiety attack over a rocking chair I'd bought from Shabby Chic. The fuss I made over that rocker made me realize I was literally off mine. It's so strange how riddled with contradictions I was. During the day, an executive producer of a hit television show, but at night a weeping baby.
I must admit, though, I was proud of the way the place looked when I was finished decorating. I was living alone, without bars on my windows. No matter what I'd achieved on The Nanny, being on my own in this tiny little apartment seemed my greatest accomplishment.
One step at a time. I was managing. Not easy, but definitely on the right path. Meanwhile, why was I experiencing strange bleeding and cramping in the middle of my cycle? The first couple of times it happened, I chalked it up to stress, but now it was becoming a regular occurrence. Still, it wasn't a lot of bleeding, and it wasn't like it was happening every day or anything. All I needed was a simple panty liner and I could easily ignore it. But it was becoming chronic, so after a few cycles I decided to call Doctor #1, the gynecologist I'd been seeing for years.
I sat in her examining room. As usual, I nervously dabbed a little Chanel No. 5 below my belly button. What? It shouldn't be a pleasant experience for the doctor? I glanced at the wall, which was covered with snapshots of all the babies my doctor had delivered. One kid in front of a Christmas tree had reindeer antlers on his head. The dog beside him wore a red suit and a beard like Santa. Well, I suppose it's better than the butt shot on the bearskin rug from my day.
Doctor #1 eventually breezed in and snapped on her gloves. I slid down to the table's edge, placing my heels in the stirrups. There was no mention of the perfume. I wondered if she was more a Shalimar gal.
I brought her up to date on my symptoms. "I keep experiencing this cramping in the middle of the month and after sex, like I'm about to get my period."
- On Sale
- May 1, 2002
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Grand Central Publishing