Cancer Schmancer: The Nanny Confronts Cancer

After a diagnosis of uterine cancer, which turned out to be slow-growing, non-invasive, Stage I, Grade 2, Fran Drescher was admitted to Cedars Sinai Hospital in LA for surgery, including a hysterectomy and appendectomy, on June 21, 2000, at the age of 42.

Fran Drescher during a press conference for th...

Fran Drescher during a press conference for the charity ball dancer against cancer (Palais Auersperg, Vienna) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One doctor had told her that politicians and celebrities get the worst medical care because no one wants to give them bad news.

So, there were advantages and disadvantages to being recognized for her signature role as Fran Fine, on “The Nanny.”

The show ran from 1993 to 1999.

Her symptoms started in the last year of the show.

Though she had been told about the hysterectomy, the appendectomy was a surprise when she woke up from surgery.

Drescher was told it was common during this kind of surgery to prevent infection.

Studies indicate that it may be also be used to help in Staging and that the appendix is biopsied to see if the tumor has spread.

Her Advice

Surround yourself with friends, and, for once in your life, when they offer to help, let them.

Drescher did not want to go to a support group, but did form a close relationship with another patient of her surgeon’s who had a similar kind of cancer.

They were introduced by a mutual friend at a party and could share details of their journey others wouldn’t understand.

Before surgery:

“I wanted to feel strong for what lay ahead, so I hiked.’

‘I wanted to feel confident, so I colored my hair.”

“I needed to remain positive, so I saw my shrink.”

“Oh, and I prayed. Man, did I pray.”

After surgery, she advises, don’t drink. It slows the healing process.

“People always wonder whether they should call someone who’s sick or recovering or grieving.”

“I, too, would hesitate sometimes, concerned I might be bothersome.”

“…But, I can now say, for sure, that it’s nice to be on the receiving end of peole’s helpfulness.”

“I didn’t always feel up to taking a call from a well-wisher, but I always got the message and appreciated the show of concern.”

“I was thrilled when friends and relatives sent bouquets, balloons, teddy bears, sweets, pajamas, bath products and books.”

Ask Questions About Everything

It took two years and eight doctors for Drescher’s uterine cancer to be diagnosed with a simple D&C (Dilation and Curettage) in a doctor’s office.

The surgeon she eventually found after her diagnosis was frustrated that doctors had not immediately ordered a D&C when she reported spotting between periods, a common marker for cancer, even though Drescher was young and thin, the opposite of the usual uterine cancer patient.

The spotting, paired eventually with painful intercourse, are both symptoms for uterine cancer.

But, her surgeon also only ordered a second biopsy because Drescher’s sister, a nurse and the wife of a doctor, insisted that the surgeon performing the hysterectomy needed her own, fresh test results.

The results differed from the first biopsy.

Mixed in the cancer cells were Grades 1, 2, 3, and 4 cells.

A tumor is graded according to the predominance of cells and Drescher’s was ultimately considered a Grade 2.

However, the mix of Grade 3 and 4 cells alerted the surgeon that this could be more serious than originally thought.

With this backdrop, Drescher read everything she could to prepare for surgery.

And, when she woke up and found a patch on her breast, she asked why.

Her preparation had told her an estrogen patch, if used to soften side effects of the “surgical menopause” caused by the hysterectomy, should never be on the breast, but rather between the waist and thigh.

Her doctor ordered a nurse to replace the patch immediately and put a new one in the right spot.

Drescher asked that the post-op nurse, who had, perhaps, mistaken her for a heart patient who needed a nitroglycerin patch on her chest, be told of her mistake so she would exercise more care the next time.

Do Your Own Research

Once Drescher’s surgery was over and her doctor started talking about radiation, to increase her odds of survival from 95 to 98%, Drescher decided she needed more opinions.

Her doctor had reached out to a colleague in Wisconsin, a state with one of the highest rates of uterine cancer.

He said that he always followed surgery for uterine cancer with radiation.

When Drescher reached him to ask why, since some doctors routinely followed surgery with radiation and some did not, she was glad she talked to him directly.

“What he explained was that follow-up appointments with your physician are key to early detection of recurrence.”

“Many of his patients lived on farms, however – some as far as three hundred miles away – and almost none of the women continued with their follow-up examinations after their release from the hospital.”

“Because of this he radiated all his patients as a precautionary treatment – not for the nine out of ten who would never experience recurrence, but for the one in ten who would.”

Drescher, who had easy access to regular follow-up appointments to check for recurrence, decided against radiation.

Risk Factors

Uterine cancer is most common among post-menopausal and obese women, neither of which fit Drescher.

However, Drescher was told she was probably suffering from luteal phase defect.

She had once been pregnant and unable to carry to term.

Had she continued to try, they might have discovered that she did not have enough progesterone to balance her estrogen and the imbalance resulted in the tumor.

Estrogen-alone hormone replacement therapy has also been found to be a risk factor.

Where Is She Now?

Most famous for her role in The Nanny, from 1993 to 1999, and, yes, apparently she does talk like that, Drescher has also appeared in the movie Spinal Tap.

After recovering from uterine cancer she went on to appear in Picking up the Pieces, which co-starred Woody Allen (2000) and as the voice of Pearl in Shark Bait (2006).

From 2003, she has been appearing in television shows, including, in 2011 and 2012, Happily Divorced, created with her ex-husband, Peter Marc Jacobson, creator of The Nanny.

She has appeared in three films in the years since her surgery, between 2000 and 2005 and has been the voice in three more between 2006 and 2012 as well as appearing in more than a dozen television shows and three plays.

An outspoken health care advocate, Drescher was appointed Public Diplomacy Envoy for Women’s Health Issues, by George W. Bush to raise awareness of women’s health issues and cancer detection.

On June 21, 2007, the seventh anniversary of her surgery, she founded the non-profit Cancer Schmancer movement, dedicated to diagnosing women’s cancers at Stage I, when they are easiest to spot and most effectively treated.

New Vocabulary

Estrogen Patch

It is used to deliver estrogen through the skin in post-menopausal women to treat hot flashes and prevent osteoporosis.

Bypassing the liver, compared to oral tablets, reduces side effects.

It is applied once or twice a week to a fatty area that does not crease, preferably the lower stomach or buttocks, never the breast.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers”


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