Thriving with Metastatic Cancer
- Actress Shannen Doherty, 51, is currently battling stage four breast cancer, but she is thriving. And she recently posted a heartwarming picture with real estate agent Chris Cortazzo – someone who’s provided her so much support during her cancer battle.
- Metastatic, or stage four, breast cancer is technically not curable, but with ongoing advancements in treatments and options to dramatically reduce symptoms, there are many reasons to be hopeful.
- SurvivorNet suggests offering concrete ways to show the cancer warrior you care, allowing them to talk through their negative emotions with you, cooking them a healthy meal that they’ll enjoy, doing activities with them that will lift their spirits and working to better understand their diagnosis if you’re taking on more of a full-time caregiver role.
The 51-year-old actress, best known for her roles in Heathers, Charmed and Beverly Hills, 90210, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 after finding a lump in her breast. At first, she was treated with hormone therapy, but this effort turned out to be ineffective as the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.Read More
Even still, Doherty, who’s married to photographer Kurt Iswarienko, 47, has managed to keep acting and stay positive amid her cancer journey. And one person who’s helped her along the way has been her “best friend” – Malibu real estate powerhouse agent Chris Cortazzo.
In a rare personal update to her social media, Doherty shared a heartwarming photo of the two out to eat.
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“Dinners. @chriscortazzo,” he simple caption read.
And though she didn’t touch upon the subject with this last post, she’s previously made it very clear how much support Cortazzo has provided for her during her cancer journey. In an older post from 2016, Doherty shared another loving picture of the two with a very heartfelt caption.
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“Relying on friends to help the cancer journey is essential and @chriscortazzo happens to be amazing at making me laugh, feel loved, cherished and allows me to be my true self at all times thru this process,” she wrote. “I’ve learned that my vulnerability is something to embrace… Not mask. Thank you Chris for being my rock #fightlikeagirl #lovemyfriends #su2c.”
Understanding Metastatic Breast Cancer
Shannen Doherty has proven that an advanced cancer diagnosis does not mean you stop living. Metastatic breast cancer – also called “stage four” breast cancer – means that the cancer has spread, or metastasized, beyond the breasts to other parts of the body. It most commonly spreads to the bones, liver and lungs, but it may also spread to the brain or other organs.
And while there is technically no cure for metastatic breast cancer, there is a wide variety of treatment options used to battle the disease including hormone therapy, chemotherapy, targeted drugs, immunotherapy and a combination of various treatments.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Elizabeth Comen, an oncologist with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, explained how she tries to manage breast cancer when it has progressed to a later stage.
“With advanced disease, the goal of treatment is to keep you as stable as possible, slow the tumor growth and improve your quality of life,” she said.
The American Cancer Society reports that there were more than 3.8 million U.S. women with a history of breast cancer alive at the start of 2019. Some of the women were cancer-free, and others still had evidence of the disease, but they also reported that more than 150,000 breast cancer survivors were living with metastatic disease, three-fourths of whom were originally diagnosed with stage I-III. And with ongoing advancements in treatments and options out there today that can dramatically reduce symptoms, there are many reasons to be hopeful.
Five Ways You Can Support Your Loved Ones with Cancer
No matter what role you play, it can be very tough to know what to do when someone you care about is diagnosed with cancer. In order to help get you started, below are some ways to offer support to your loved ones with cancer.
- Avoid asking, try doing. Although it’s understandable to not know how to best support your loved one during their cancer journey, it can be equally as hard for them to voice exactly what they need or want from you. Instead of always asking, “How can I help you?” maybe try saying something more concrete like, “Hey, can I come over at 8? I’ll bring Monopoly.” If you offer specific ways to support rather than ask for things they need, it’s likely to come across as more genuine and feel easier for them to accept the support or help.
- Stay in touch, but “don’t say stupid things.” You might never be able to truly understand the battle your loved one is facing, but being a person they feel comfortable talking through some of their negative emotions with can make a big difference. That being said, breast cancer survivor Catherine Gigante-Brown says there are some topics you might want to avoid. “Don’t burden us with stories about your Great Aunt Harriet who had breast cancer,” she previously told SurvivorNet. “And then you say, ‘Oh how’s she doing?’ And then they’ll say, ‘Oh, she died.’ We don’t need to hear the horror stories.”
- Offer to cook them a meal. Consider inviting them over for dinner, dropping off a special dish, or, if that’s not possible, sending a gift basket with some pick-me-up goodies. If you’re able to cook for them, perhaps try to make a healthy meal that will bring them joy. Remember that there’s no specialized diet that has been found to fight cancer, but it’s always a good idea to maintain a moderate diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, as well as fats and proteins. No matter what, it’s the simple gesture of providing a meal that will make them feel loved and supported.
- Try helping them find joy. There’s no one right way to do it, but try to think of activities you can do with your loved one that will lift them up. It could be something as simple as watching a funny tv series together, having a wine and paint night, taking a drive to a beautiful place or starting a book club with them. We’ve seen in previous studies that patients with better emotional health have a better quality of life when going through treatment and actually tend to live longer than those with worse emotional well-being. Dr. Dana Chase, a gynecologic oncologist at Arizona Oncology, says “better quality of life is associated with better survival, better outcomes… having a good social network can be very helpful.”
- Be involved. If you’ve take on more of a full-time caregiving role, work to understand your loved one’s diagnosis and help them follow the instructions from the cancer-care team. “I encourage caregivers to come in to visits with my patients, because in that way, the caregiver is also listening to the recommendations — what should be done in between these visits, any changes in treatment plans, any toxicities [side effects] that we need to look out for, changes in dietary habits, exercise, etc.,” Dr. Jayanthi Lea, a gynecologic oncologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, previously told SurvivorNet.