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Fran Drescher shares how experiences with cancer, rape and divorce shaped her life

In a new essay for InStyle, Fran Drescher tackles tough topics, sharing how they've influenced her career path and personal life.
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Fran Drescher discusses her cancer battle, rape and divorce in a new essay.Maarten de Boer/NBC
/ Source: TODAY

When most people think of Fran Drescher, they picture the fun-loving, stylish actress who made "The Nanny" a breakout hit in the '90s. Drescher has certainly made her mark on pop culture, but these days, she's more interested in talking about the offscreen experiences that have shaped her career.

In a new essay for InStyle, the 61-year-old tackles tough topics, candidly discussing her experiences with rape, cancer and divorce, and sharing how they've influenced her career path and personal life.

After being raped at gunpoint during a home invasion in 1985, Drescher promptly brushed her feelings aside: "Afterward, I didn’t really get into my feelings or my vulnerabilities. I never wanted to come off as 'weak,' so I just kind of buried it and got on with life," she wrote.

Over the next 15 years, the actress, who stars in the upcoming NBC show "Indebted," focused on working hard and taking care of others around her. After "The Nanny" ended in 1999, though, Drescher got some life-changing news when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer.

"It was strange — and kind of poetic — that my reproductive organs, of all things, had cancer. But it was also an amazing affirmation that pain finds its way to exactly the right place in the body if you don’t deal with it. Since I hadn’t been paying attention to my own vulnerabilities, my pain from the rape lodged itself in my uterus," she told InStyle.

Image: Fran Drescher Is 'The Nanny'
Fran Drescher famously played Fran Fine in "The Nanny." CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images

At that moment, the actress decided it was time to lose her "Superwoman complex" and start giving into her feelings. "The cancer was my opportunity to ask for help and basically become a more well-rounded person," she said.

After two years, several misdiagnoses and surgery, Drescher began to enter a phase she calls Life After Cancer, and she was determined to make the most of it.

"Suddenly I was a person who couldn’t have children. But I gave birth to a book, 'Cancer Schmancer,' and launched a movement with the goal of transforming people from patients into medical consumers. The very word 'patient' implies passivity," she said.

Since then, Drescher has served as public diplomacy envoy for women’s health issues (during the George W. Bush administration) and lobbied for the Gynecologic Cancer Education and Awareness Act.

Drescher knows that life is one heck of a ride, and she's realized over the years that some relationships don't always survive the journey. This became particularly clear when she divorced husband Peter Marc Jacobson in 1999.

"We met when we were 15, and he saw 'star' written all over me. We’re a great creative team, and 'The Nanny' was our baby. We divorced the year the show ended. He discovered that he was gay. It was interesting because even though he was gay, he was the one who was a little mad at me for leaving him. Can you believe it? One of the silver linings of the cancer was that we rekindled our friendship. He’s still my soul mate," she said.

Over the years, Drescher has learned to take life's challenges in stride, and is thankful her journey has led her to pursue her latest passion: stand-up comedy.

"What I like about it is that I’m not dependent on anyone. I can just write my act and show up anywhere. It’s yet another outlet for me to be self-effacing and share experiences in my life through humor that can, hopefully, inspire people who may have gone through the same things to open up. Sometimes the best gifts come in the ugliest packages," she said.