Fran Drescher, beloved ‘90s icon best known from her days starring in the title role of the CBS hit sitcom “The Nanny,” is also an LGBTQIA ally, bestselling author, cancer survivor, health and wellness advocate and founder of the Cancer Schmancer Movement.
As if her activism efforts didn’t keep her busy enough, her list of upcoming projects is endless. She’s got a new pilot for NBC; she’s writing a Broadway musical with her “writing partner and gay ex-husband, Peter Jacobson,” as she lovingly calls him; she’ll soon be starting production on “Hotel Transylvania 4”; there’s a daytime talk and cooking show in the works with Bravo; she has films premiering at the Tribeca and Nice Film Festivals, “Safe Spaces” and “The Creatress,” respectively. Did we mention that she headlined a stand-up special in March now available on Showtime, “Funny Women of a Certain Age”? Well, now we have.
Besides two New York Times bestselling autobiographies — “Enter Whining” and “Cancer Schmancer” — she also penned a children’s book, “Being Wendy.” And she wasn’t just the face of “The Nanny,” she was a creator, writer, producer (later an executive producer), directed a couple episodes of the show and was nominated for two Emmy Awards and Two Golden Globes for her role as Fran Fine. She was also in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” on Broadway, in which she played the deliciously funny and glamorous Wicked Stepmother. She’s beautiful, successful and, worst of all, completely down-to-earth and genuinely nice. Damn her!
Drescher is a rare breed of celebrity who doesn’t seem to stir up ill will. Everyone has an opinion about everything these days, yet all the comments on her personal social media posts are positive, a feat that transcends the snarky nature of the internet itself. She’s an icon, simply put, and believes her willingness to put it all out there is what makes her so endearing to fans.
“I think that when you present yourself authentically and you’re able to be vulnerable and real,” she asserts, “that’s when you get the kind of support from the public that I have been graced with. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they feel like they know me, and in many ways, they do.” She doesn’t take her platform as a public figure lightly, and says she tries to use her influence “for the greater good,” for those who are marginalized, and “to [bring] light to environmental issues, animal rights issues and health issues.” We can add cannabis advocacy to that list, as well.
Don’t get it twisted — Drescher isn’t Fran Fine. She’s whip-smart and hilarious, yes, but unlike Ms. Fine, Drescher wants to turn capitalism on its head. After beating cancer, her eyes were opened to the failings in the U.S. healthcare system, where doctors throw pills at a problem rather than look at a patient’s holistic well-being, as well as the everyday items we use that are filled with dangerous toxins, products created on the cheap by manufacturers who are more concerned about the bottom line than the safety of their wares. Drescher’s wellness journey has naturally extended to cannabis, an industry suppressed by other big businesses and sorely lacking in medical research due to a decades-long stigma fueled by industrialists.
Her voice is filled with what can only be described as a calm urgency, a conviction to help others wake up from the lies we’ve been fed by the powers that be, whether from doctors, politicians or corporations. “I really feel like when you’re blessed with celebrity and you don’t apply it to the greater good, you’re kind of wasting it,” she tells me when discussing Cancer Schmancer, her organization dedicated to raising awareness about early cancer detection, preventative lifestyle changes, policy changes and mindful consumerism to dictate more responsible manufacturing trends. Listening to her speak, one can’t help but be swayed. She’s fabulous, yes, as well as warm, understanding and quick with a joke, but Drescher speaks with a frank rawness befitting someone who is fed up with the status quo.
Her crusade to ensure consumers have access to safe products and early cancer screenings is a personal one. After a long, frustrating journey to diagnosis, Drescher was told she had uterine cancer in 2000 and quickly thereafter had a radical hysterectomy. During surgery, she explains, they also removed her appendix, something she didn’t realize would be happening during the procedure. An infection risk, her doctors told her. Unfortunate complications ensued, as Drescher notes that “the appendix is actually the brains of the lymphatic system. Basically, my lymphatic system got a lobotomy.” She began to experience inflammation in her soft tissue but didn’t connect the dots that it was due to her appendectomy.
“That took me a couple of years to figure out,” she reveals, “because most Western doctors try and suppress the symptoms rather than understand the system within the body and why this is happening, and how we can prevent it.” Drescher eventually found a doctor in Vienna, Austria, who told her her body wasn’t metabolizing histamines properly. She began focusing on clean eating and being her “own thermostat,” learning to lower her stress through meditation, exercise and cooking.
Discontented with her tumultuous medical experience, Drescher authored the New York Times bestseller, “Cancer Schmancer,” which morphed into founding the Cancer Schmancer Movement in 2007. “We have to know the early warning whispers of the cancers that could affect us and the tests that are available, ’cause they may not even be on the menu at the doctor’s office,” Drescher warns. She urges everyone, particularly women, to listen to that little nagging feeling that something isn’t right with their bodies.
“Most diseases, when caught in the earliest and most curable stage, need to be diagnosed right away. When you feel that there’s something not right, that could be the time when you decide, ‘I’m gonna ignore it for a while because I have so much going on.’ Between the kids, the husband, the elders, [your] work — all of that stuff that gets in the way of clear thinking — you have to pivot your thinking … [it] may be nothing, but it is important to get in the habit of saying, ‘God forbid it’s something. I need to catch it while it’s still in the whisper stage, because I’m useless to my family when I’m six feet under.’”
When you think about the volume of products you use daily — deodorant, shampoos, lotions, perfumes, not to mention the fabrics you wear and the detergent you use to wash your clothes — you begin to see how a harmful chemical here and a toxin there can add to up one big problem. Drescher balks at using big brand-name toothpaste when it has a “do not swallow” disclaimer on the back: “It seems antithetical to what you would want to put in your mouth!”
As she puts it, “Once you wake up and smell the coffee, [it’s hard] to go back to sleep. This day and age, the opportunity to do better, to strive higher, to do the right thing is always going to present itself. And every day you may not always do the right thing, but at least be aware that you didn’t, and try next time.” She urges consumers to examine the products we’ve been told we need and to purchase alternative items that don’t contain harmful substances. We’re raised not to question the status quo, particularly when it comes to what we should and shouldn’t buy, and Drescher wants consumers to use their dollars to disrupt industries that think we should call poison control if we accidentally ingest their product.
Drescher questions capitalism at its core. She has nothing against making money, but when a company profits at the expense of all things of true value — namely air, water and earth — then there’s a problem. “You’re a capitalist,” she remarks, referring to a general “you” that represents big business. “You’re not a spiritualist, you’re not an environmentalist — you’re a capitalist, so money is the thing that is all you really care about.” We’re experiencing capitalism that has run amok, she argues; when the bottom line is the bottom line and the only criteria for success, decisions are made that aren’t necessarily in the best interest of people or planet.
She pivots our conversation to the cannabis industry, an arena she’s recently given her public support. Drescher, well aware of cannabis’ history in the United States, explains the connection between capitalist greed and marijuana prohibition. “I think that cannabis got a bad rap in the 20th century as a result of big business,” she states matter-of-factly, mentioning the industries that were threatened by hemp and cannabis (pharmaceutical companies and timber companies, to name a few). She urges growers, manufacturers and users to honor the plant, support organic, eco-friendly farms and develop greater efficacy for medicinals.
As for her personal experience with the plant, she used recreational cannabis to de-stress in the past, but admits, “I realized through therapy that I was avoiding my feelings. I disciplined myself not to grab my pipe when I would be stressing, or my dad would say something that would bend me out of shape or whatever my trigger [may] be. I decided to learn how to A) feel my feelings, and B) learn how to express them in a constructive way so I can ultimately get the results from the people in my life that I want. That kind of distanced me from being a daily user in a positive way, because although I think it’s a great plant that needs to be honored and has a lot of benefits, avoiding your feelings should not be one of them.”
Being so vocal about her cancer journey, many assume she used cannabis in recovery or for symptoms post-surgery. She never underwent chemo, however, and says she felt she got too high smoking while in recovery. She also didn’t have access to reliably-dosed edibles, vape pens, transdermal patches and other products that help cancer patients today.
She hardly ever drinks — alcohol gives her inflammation — and says that most of the time she’s “completely sober.” But Drescher has recognized that cannabis is a “really helpful tool as a supplemental to support my body’s endocannabinoid system, to help me calm down if I’m too wound up, to help me sleep, as well as reduce inflammation.”
She enjoys her new foray into the cannabis space and considers it part of her overall health and wellness journey. “What I’ve tried to do with my celebrity is speak to this community and urge them to not follow in the footsteps of the industrialists of the 20th century,” who, in Drescher’s no-nonsense words, “shit everything up.”
“We stand on the precipice of a new dawn with lots of wonderful possibilities,” she maintains, “but honor the plants if you’re a grower — go organic, biodynamic, let this plant be what God intended it to be — and then educate users, whether they be medicinal or recreational, to set the standard, because it’s all about supply and demand. That’s the position that I’ve taken.”
Cancer Schmancer has an annual Fran Drescher Master Class Health Summit, where attendees can hear talks from doctors like Dr. Uma Dhanabalan, a Harvard graduate who realized that “cannabis is not an entry drug, should not be a Schedule I [drug] and should be a first option for the sick, not a last resort.” Drescher brings up seniors and cancer patients who have questions about cannabis and want to know more, but many doctors have, in Drescher’s words, “drank the Kool-Aid” and don’t view marijuana as legitimate medicine. “You gotta understand that it’s a plant, not a chemical compound like a prescriptive drug,” she argues, but that doesn’t negate its medicinal properties.
While cannabis may be a viable medicine, Drescher acknowledges that there are still companies out there that claim health and wellness to be their number one priority but still use pesticides in their grows. She believes, like in any business, this issue can be solved by consumers.
“You want to support the family farmer who is organic and doing it right and honoring the land and the plants — and your body, by the way — then that’s what you have to support,” she insists. “All I can do is keep talking to people to understand that they’re the ones who wield the power. What they buy and don’t buy is not only their vote but also their protest. It doesn’t matter who’s in the White House, who’s in Congress or [which] regulations are stipulated, the power of purchase speaks louder. If everyone stopped drinking Cola’s today, they would stop making it tomorrow. That fast.”
Although she hasn’t made any official cannabis endorsements, Drescher is on the hunt for pristinely grown cannabis when she heads to the dispensary. “I scrutinize them,” she admits. “The first thing I say is, ‘What’s organic?’”
And as far as she’s concerned, the stigma surrounding cannabis consumption is a thing of the past. In South Florida, where her parents live, she says medical marijuana licenses are on the rise with the senior crowd. Her father, who has Parkinson’s, utilizes medical marijuana — “[He] takes a hit of his vapor pipe — he goes from having no expression to being animated,” she beams, “That’s huge! You see it.”
Drescher contends that there’s no “downside” to trying cannabis. “No one has ever OD’d on it, no one got cancer from it … You know what? [The stigma is] so over. Everybody is getting used to that, and eventually, big business will, too.” Many within the cannabis space are concerned that pharmaceutical companies will co-opt cannabis and destroy small canna-businesses, but Drescher sees it as the other way around — that cannabis’ seemingly endless medical uses will topple Big Pharma. “No one is more worried than big business pharmaceutical. They have to do it right. They should do it right, or all their shareholders are going to be in for a rude awakening.”
Having embarked on a wellness journey to examine what exactly it is we’re putting into — and on — our bodies, it seems natural, perhaps inevitable, that Drescher’s post-cancer path to health led her to cannabis. “It’s become another platform for me that I’m passionate about, and it all dovetails together in a very neat bow … empowering people to make informed decisions — whether it be about their health, whether it be about what they buy — they have to dial it back and not use anything unless it [can be] grown in your grandma’s garden. Period.”