by Fran Drescher
In the Beginning (EXCERPT)
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 highschool 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.
You 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."
"Do you take anything to help relieve the pain?" she asked, while performing a relatively painless Pap smear. I knew there was a reason I preferred a female gynecologist. Small hands!
"I usually take an Advil and the cramps subside," I responded.
"Well, I wouldn't worry about anything a single Advil can take care of." She didn't seem very concerned, which was a relief, but I thought she did seem a bit hyper. She talked a mile a minute as her head periodically popped up from behind the paper sheet that draped across my thighs.
She brought up the Chinese herbs I knew she was selling on the side to Judi and a few of my other girlfriends to help them lose weight. Oh, I never liked the idea that my gyno was into that, too. I should have known then. "I've been taking them for two years now," she said, while pressing on my abdomen. "I'd like to stop, but I'm afraid I'll gain weight."
"What do you make of my midmonth staining?" I asked, while noticing on the wall a set of triplets dressed like bunnies. "You're probably perimenopausal. It's the precursor to menopause and a common symptom in middle-aged women." Middle what? "In France they consider it normal," she added.
My mind wandered as I began to obsess on Catherine Deneuve. Catherine Deneuve is French and she looks great. Does Catherine Deneuve stain between periods? Does Catherine Deneuve still get her period? Did Catherine Deneuve get a face-lift?
"Fran, what about having children?" Doctor #1 said, pulling me back into the moment. "Do you plan to? Because time is running out!" By this point she was annoying me. My life was so up in the air I had no idea what I was having for breakfast, let alone what I was doing about having kids. But the photo of that very fat, bald baby in his tiny baseball uniform sitting in a catcher's mitt sure looked cute.
In that moment I made a mental note to stop seeing a gynecologist who was also an obstetrician. I mean, I needed this pressure like a hole in the head. So I pulled up my pants and left with a sample bag of Chinese weight-loss herbs and a clean bill of health. I had cancer at the time.
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