Support Matters During Cancer
- Actress Shannen Doherty, 52, had a “girls’ night out” with some of her closest friends who’ve been by her side throughout her ups and downs, including her emotional divorce and her difficult cancer journey.
- Supporting a friend or loved one with cancer can be challenging. 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 understand their diagnosis better if you’re taking on more of a full-time caregiver role.
- Doherty was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. It went into remission in 2017 but returned as stage 4 cancer in 2019, meaning it has spread to other body parts.
- Doherty’s cancer spread to her brain, causing her to undergo surgery to remove a tumor in her brain earlier this year. Since brain surgery, Doherty’s recovery appears to be going well as social media posts by the beloved actress show her in good spirits, surrounded by loved ones.
- Doherty often credited her support system for helping lift her spirits throughout her cancer journey.
Actress Shannen Doherty, 52, had a much-needed “girls’ night out” with her closest friends as she continues her emotional metastatic breast cancer journey that spread to her brain. Support from loved ones is a vital asset for cancer patients who often lean on them to cope emotionally. The “Beverly Hills 90210” actress donned a subtle smile in a cute photo she shared with her friends amid an evening of fun, seemingly to ease her mind of cancer and an ongoing divorce.
(Photo: Instagram/theshando) Doherty has been through a great deal of stress over the years as she battled metastatic breast cancer. This year alone, she’s undergone brain surgery due to the cancer spreading to her brain. She’s also filed for divorce from her estranged husband of 11 years, Kurt Iswarienko. Thankfully, she has her friends to support her through these hardships and also celebrate life’s joyous moments alongside her. Last week, Doherty posted to Instagram she’s dealt with some “hard days” lately. In addition to cancer, the popular actress has been emotionally moved by the ongoing war in Israel.
“Obvious reasons and not-so-obvious reasons. But every day, I pick myself up and hope that I do better. That people do better. That what’s obvious is not so convoluted,” she said in a caption.
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Why Support Matters During Cancer
Doherty’s been battling breast cancer since 2015, and she’s been fortunate to have an army of support to help her along the way. A cancer diagnosis can be highly stressful. SurvivorNet experts encourage cancer patients to alleviate the stress caused by their diagnosis by leaning on their support system.
A support system can comprise loved ones like family and friends. It can also include strangers who have come together because of a shared cancer experience. Mental health professionals can also be critical parts of a support system.
“Some people don’t need to go outside of their family and friend’s circle. They feel like they have enough support there,” psychiatrist Dr. Lori Plutchik told SurvivorNet.
“But for people who feel like they need a little bit more, it’s important to reach out to a mental health professional,” Dr. Plutchik added.
Dr. Plutchik also stressed that people supporting cancer warriors must understand that their emotions vary daily.
“People can have a range of emotions…they can include fear, anger, and these emotions tend to be fluid. They can recede and return based on where someone is in the process,” Dr. Plutchik said.
WATCH: Helping You Maintain a Positive Headspace
Doherty’s Cancer Journey Is Filled with Resilience and Inspiration
Shannen Doherty’s initial breast cancer diagnosis arrived in 2015 after discovering a lump in her breast. For treatment, she had hormone therapy, a single mastectomy (the removal of all breast tissue from one breast), chemotherapy, and radiation.
By 2017, she achieved remission status, but the disease returned two years later in 2019. This time around, her breast cancer was metastatic, or stage 4.
“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,” SurvivorNet advisor Dr. Elizabeth Comen, an oncologist with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said of managing metastatic breast cancer.
“I have so many patients who are living with their cancer. It isn’t just about living but living well,” Dr. Comen adds.
Doherty’s cancer then spread, or metastasized, to her brain. As a result, she’s undergone radiation and surgery in the form of a craniotomy to improve her prognosis.
As cancer treatments improve year over year, so does the number of people battling this form of cancer that spreads to the brain, says Dr. Michael Lim, the Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery and a board-certified neurosurgeon specializing in brain tumors at Stanford Medicine.
“A third of the patients with systemic cancers develop brain metastasis, and we estimate that number is starting to go higher not because the cancers are becoming more aggressive but because people are living longer,” Dr. Lim explained.
According to Dr. Kimberly Hoang, a board-certified neurosurgeon at Emory University School of Medicine, a craniotomy procedure like Doherty underwent earlier this year is “a procedure to cut out a tumor” on the brain that may be particularly useful “if the tumor is causing symptoms or if it’s large.”
“A couple of decades ago, to have a brain metastasis was a very bad prognosis for patients,” Dr. Hoang said. “They didn’t live for more than a couple of months, so it was a very terminal thing. Thanks to a lot of advancements in microsurgery we do and radiation, patients are living longer,” Dr. Hoang continued.
Some cancers are more prone to spread to the brain than others, Dr. Krishanthan Vigneswaran, a neurosurgeon with UT Health Houston and Memorial Hermann, tells SurvivorNet.
“Breast cancer is among the types of cancers that more commonly spread to the bone and to the brain along with melanoma, prostate cancer, renal cell cancer, and lung cancer,” Dr. Vigneswaran explained.
Since undergoing brain surgery, Doherty has been seen throughout the Spring and Summer, spending time with loved ones as she continues battling stage 4 cancer.
What To Ask Your Doctor
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you may have questions about keeping your strength through treatment. Here are a few questions to help you begin the conversation with your doctor:
- What treatment will I be receiving?
- What side effects are associated with this treatment?
- Are there steps I can take daily to help minimize these side effects?
- What physical activity routine do you recommend for me during treatment?