Fran says she first started to notice symptoms in 1997. Doctors told her she was premenopausal, but as her symptoms—such as bleeding between menstrual cycles and pelvic cramps—worsened, Fran sought out more medical opinions. Two years later and after getting eight doctors' opinions, she was finally diagnosed with uterine cancer, but it had already progressed. "Initially, I wasn't mad—I was mortified. I dropped to my knees and wept," she says. "I was very, very frightened." As part of her treatment, Fran had a radical hysterectomy that would prevent her from ever having children.
Throughout her treatment and recovery from cancer, Fran, her family and then-boyfriend kept a close eye on the medical staff and treatments she was receiving—often catching mistakes. "I think I tend to be a bit more of a control freak than other people, and I sort of saved my life in this situation," she says. "I would recommend to anyone in the hospital to have somebody there at all times who loves them and can really question everything that is done."
In 2002, Fran chronicled her ordeal in the book Cancer Schmancer, using humor to share her story. "The humor is in looking at the whole picture—obviously I'm not glad I had cancer and I don't wish it on anyone, but I am better for it," she says. "The cancer is the slice of the pie of your life and not your whole life."
Through her nonprofit advocacy organization, also called Cancer Schmancer, Fran says she is starting a movement and becoming an advocate and lobbyist in Washington for gynecological cancer—making sure women and doctors start detecting it earlier. "Ultimately, the goal of Cancer Schmancer is to assure that every American will get diagnosed at stage 1 [of cancer], when it is most curable," she says. "Stage 1 is the cure."