Thriving with Metastatic Cancer
- Shannen Doherty is living with metastatic breast cancer, but she’s continuing to make movies and achieve great things amid her cancer battle. Most recently, her new movie List of a Lifetime was nominated for a Critics Choice Award.
- Some people find that working during cancer, or soon after treatment, can bring a sense of normalcy to their lives during a cancer journey.
- 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. There is technically no cure, but advancements in treatments can dramatically improve outcomes and that is something to be hopeful for.
The 50-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. Then, she underwent a single mastectomy to remove one of her breasts, chemotherapy and radiation. She was into remission until 2019, when she discovered her breast cancer had returned. This time, the cancer had spread to other parts of her body making it a metastatic, or stage four, cancer diagnosis.Read More
“I’m really, really, really proud of this movie,” Doherty said on The Talk. “It was a labor of love. It was such an amazing, wonderful group of women who got together and told this story. I’m not the one who had the cancer in the movie. And Kelly Hu, who is the one with breast cancer [in the film], just did a beautiful job. And it was such, I think, a wonderful way of telling what it’s like to have breast cancer.”
In an Instagram post after her appearance on the show, Doherty shared the news of the nomination with her followers.
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“The little movie that could,” she wrote in her caption. “List of a Lifetime is nominated for a critics choice award. I am so proud of everyone involved and honored I got to be a part of such a special movie. @roxyshih @kellyhu @kwansyl @autumnfederici @just.kannie @lifetimetv @ninthhousefilms @jamiekaler and the rest of our cast and crew, thank you and great job all!! @criticschoice“
As they should, Doherty and her co-stars are already starting to revel in the excitement of the nomination.
“We got the news this morning,” Doherty explained on The Talk. “We’re already on text messages with each other like planning what we’re gonna wear if we go to the award show. So, yeah, I’m blown away, and I’m just incredibly proud.”
Doherty also shared who would likely get to house her trophy if the film did win.
“It would go to my mom’s house honestly,” she said. “I’d probably give it to my mom. She’d love it.”
Understanding Metastatic Breast Cancer
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 are 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 management 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.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer, but there are so many breast cancer survivors and people living with the disease today. 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.
Living with Cancer
Life doesn’t slow down for a cancer diagnosis, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Like Doherty explains beautifully, it’s important to remember that a cancer diagnosis – even stage four – does not mean the end of your life. In fact, our experts say that prioritizing your overall wellbeing and continuing to do the things that you love can be very beneficial.
Dr. Geoffrey Oxnard, a thoracic oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, shared three things he tells his lung cancer patients about living with the disease:
- Don’t act sick – “You can’t mope around,” he said. “Do things, and in doing things, you will stay active.”
- Don’t lose weight – “Eat what you need to do to not lose weight,” he said. “I like my patients pleasantly plump.”
- Don’t be a tough guy – “When you’ve got lung cancer, you need work with your doctor to keep your medical conditions under control.”
Working through Cancer Treatment
A cancer battle can change your life. But how you proceed to go about your days as you face the disease is entirely up to you. For some people like Doherty, it’s really important to keep working. Whether that be for financial reasons, a sense of normalcy or simply because you like what you do, it’s important to try to make a work schedule that suits you during treatment if you want to continue working. And it’s also important for you to know there are people out there to help you navigate the process of not working if that’s your preferred option.
Laurie Ostacher, a social worker at Sutter Bay Medical Foundation, previously spoke to SurvivorNet about how she helps people figure out their working situation after a cancer diagnosis.
“Some women choose to continue working [through cancer] because working is a significant part of their identity, they enjoy the job, and there’s flexibility built in,” she explained. “I help folks think about whether it makes sense to work… If you really don’t want to but are worried you’re not going to be able to make ends meet, then I’ll sit down and help them figure out, you know, with your disability insurance, would this be possible?”
Ostacher also shared the questions she might pose to people in order to help them think about how their work life might look while fighting cancer.
“For women who choose to work, I help them think about what types of conversations do you need to have with their employer? How much information do you want to share with him or her? What type of work schedule seems like it might work for you? Where might you need more flexibility?” she said.
No matter what, it’s important to do what’s right for you and seek out valuable resources like Ostacher if you need help deciding on the right course of action when it comes to working during a cancer battle.