The powerhouse behind the Noreen Fraser Foundation is living with stage IV breast cancer, and has raised more than $12 million to help save women’s lives.
by Lisa Castillo
Cancer is no laughing matter, but Noreen Fraser believes that comedy can help us come closer to finding a cure. Fraser is a breast cancer survivor living with stage IV metastatic breast cancer, co-creator and co-producer of Stand up to Cancer – an awareness organization involving the entertainment industry – and founder of the nonprofit Noreen Fraser Foundation. Fraser has made cancer her business, raising over $12 million to help save her own life and the lives of all women fighting women’s cancers. After she finished one of her many rounds of treatment at UCLA , we met at a Westwood cafe to chat about cancer, comedy, kids and cures.
What do you hope to change with the Noreen Fraser Foundation?
I hope that in the future, more people will be able to live with cancer than die from it. It could become a chronic disease like diabetes and not necessarily a death sentence. Cancer is tough and relentless. It’s smart – smarter than everyone so far – but we are gaining on it. We’ve made some great strides over the past seven years. We are in a hopeful period now. The way I look at it is if you can save one person’s life, you can retire.
How did the use of humor become such an important part of your fundraising efforts?
When I started the foundation, I was trying to figure out what I could do to make a real difference. I wasn’t smart enough to be a scientist. I thought, What is it in my life that makes me happy? And the answer is laughter. I realized nobody was using humor and nobody was using men to raise awareness. At one point, I asked Jack Black if he would do a mammogram on camera for our Men for Women Now campaign, and it was a touch of genius.
Your children were 8 and 10 years old when you were first diagnosed in 2001. What advice would you give to moms who were recently diagnosed?
Get a helmet. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. Both of my children say it is really intense to have a mom with cancer. One of the problems is that when you’re living with a terminal disease and you’re on the medication, you’re always tired. My children say I misremember how absent I could be at times. Let your community help you. Remember, children are really compassionate, but they need support, too.
Your journey has inspired so many people all over the world to be strong, courageous and hopeful. How are you able to cope with cancer and going through treatments?
My children, my girlfriends and my five sisters keep me alive. I made a deal with God that if I can just see my kids graduate from high school, I would go happily, and I did it. My next deal is to see them graduate college. Mack is 20 and a junior at NYU, and Madeline is 22 and a senior at George Washington University. I also pretend I don’t have cancer. I just forget about it until I have to show up for a CAT scan or something. I don’t ever stop myself from making plans. In December, I’m turning 60 and I’m going on an African safari. I’m not wallowing in my cancer, trust me. When I go into scans, like a bone scan, I usually do cry. Then I just try to move on. I am grateful and I am still alive!