It is said that laughter is the best medicine. Although actress Fran Drescher has done her share of healing over the years in her role on the hit TV series “The Nanny,” she took on a more serious subject in September when she came to Capitol Hill to discuss environmental risks and women’s cancers. Fran, who founded the group Cancer Schmancer after her diagnosis and successful treatment of uterine cancer, spoke to a standing room only audience packed into the stately Senate Judiciary Committee. About a third of the audience was made up of spouses from the congressional and diplomatic communities.
Fran openly shared the details of her cancer diagnosis and treatment and how those experiences have impacted her lifestyle and consumer decisions. In addition to her work as an author and activist, she serves as a public diplomacy envoy for women’s health issues for the State Department. Fran uses her platforms to educate people about cancer prevention and early detection. “I feel like I lived to talk about it,” she says.
Lisa McGovern, Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program’s Executive Director, began the conversation by introducing the panel’s moderators: Susan Allen, spouse of former Virginia Senator and Governor George Allen and Debbie Dingell, spouse of Representative John Dingell of Michigan. Susan led a statewide breast cancer initiative as First Lady of Virginia and has stayed active in the cancer community since then. Debbie Dingell has been involved with breast cancer and women’s cancer awareness and prevention for more than thirty years; both women are active members of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program.
Fran’s remarks were followed by a discussion led by Dr. Linda Birnbaum and Dr. H. Kim Lyerly. Dr. Birnbaum is the Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. She recently completed a congressionally-mandated and funded research study titled “Breast Cancer and the Environment: Prioritizing Prevention.” Dr. Lyerly is a medical doctor and breast cancer surgeon. He serves as the George Bath Geller Professor of Cancer Research at the Duke University School of Medicine. Dr. Birnbaum and Dr. Lyerly discussed environmental risk factors that may contribute to the development of women’s cancers, stressing that cancer is triggered by a mix of genes and environment. Prevention is largely impacted by lifestyle choices; you can’t change your genes but you can change your environment. Dr. Lyerly addressed how these same environmental factors can negatively influence the effectiveness of treatment following diagnosis.
It was an honor for Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program to co-host this event, creating a healthy dialogue on the impact of environmental risks on women’s cancers. The panel reminded us that lifestyle choices can greatly reduce your risk for cancer, making it very important to know your family history, learn and follow screening guidelines, stay tobacco-free, eat healthy and exercise.