Finding Support during a Cancer Journey
- Actress Shannen Doherty is currently facing metastatic breast cancer. But by the looks of her posts, she has wonderful friends to support her along the way.
- 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.
- Facing cancer can be a very vulnerable and emotionally exhausting experience, so it helps to have friends that support you. We’ve spoken to survivors who’ve felt their friendships flourish and others who’ve felt the opposite during their cancer battle. Either way, it’s crucial to note which relationships you have the energy for during treatment.
- One of our experts says some people may need to look beyond their circle of family and friends to get the extra support they need. For those people, she recommends finding a mental health professional with experience aiding people undergoing cancer treatment.
Doherty, 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
“Friends. Seriously, friends. Like the people that will help you escape type friends. I love each of them so deeply,” she wrote in her caption.
Friendship and Support during a Cancer Battle
It’s no secret that fighting cancer can be overwhelming, so having physical and emotional support from friends during your battle is huge. Thankfully, it seems that Shannen Doherty has been able to live her life to the fullest with supportive loved ones by her side.
Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Marianna Strongin says having people by your side during this “arduous chapter” of your life can be very beneficial.
“Studies have found consistently that loneliness is a significant risk factor for physical and mental illnesses and the trajectory of recovery,” she wrote in a column for SurvivorNet. “Therefore, it will be important that you surround yourself with individuals who care and support you throughout your treatment.”
That being said, it’s very important to know your limits on what you can handle during treatment.
“Going through treatment is a very vulnerable and emotionally exhausting experience,” she wrote. “Noticing what you have strength for and what is feeling like too much… [is] extremely important to pay attention to as you navigate treatment.”
Bianca Muniz is both an ovarian and breast cancer survivor. She told SurvivorNet some of her friendships ended because certain people just couldn’t understand what she was going through.
Two-time cancer survivor Bianca Muniz explains how she found a support system during treatment
“I’ve lost a lot of friends … because people don’t really know how to deal with what I’m going through,” she told SurvivorNet. “I didn’t care to talk about what was happening with me. I just wanted things to be normal — and they didn’t really understand how to do that.”
But many people do see their friendships flourish during their cancer journey. For Monica Layton, it was the friendships and community of her church congregation that really gave her the support she needed during her ovarian cancer battle.
Ovarian cancer survivor Monica Layton shares how her church was her biggest support system
“[I’ve] gone to the same church for a long time, so it’s like another family that really supports me,” she told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “We’re Episcopalian, and when I was having surgery my priest came to the hospital and stayed and prayed with my family the whole time – and it was a long surgery. And then he came back to the hospital every day to pray with me.”
In addition to praying for her, Layton’s church also sent flowers, cards and a prayer blanket and often visited her.
“They were so kind,” Layton said. “I think my faith has been very important, crucial for me. Just the prayer really helps, I think.”
Psychiatrist Dr. Lori Plutchik does say some cancer warriors may need to look beyond their existing relationships to find the support they need.
“Some people don’t need to go outside of their family and friends circle. They feel like they have enough support there,” Dr. Plutchik told SurvivorNet. “But for people who feel like they need a little bit more, it is important to reach out to a mental health professional.”
Seeking Support: The First 3 Things to Do after a Cancer Diagnosis
Dr. Plutchik says it’s best to find a mental health professional with experience aiding people undergoing cancer treatment.
“Make sure that the mental health professional that you work it is reaching out — with your consent — to the rest of your team, to the oncologist, to the surgeon,” she said. “It can also be helpful to reach out to family, friends, and any other caretakers that may be involved in the person’s treatment.”
Understanding Shannen Doherty’s Cancer: Metastatic Breast Cancer
Shannen Doherty is currently battling stage four, or metastatic, breast cancer. Metastatic 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.
RELATED: Are You A Metastatic Breast Cancer Patient Curious About The Drug Enhertu? Here’s What You Need To Know
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.
One major advancement that’s made recent headlines is the reclassification of some advanced breast cancers as HER2 “low.” During an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America, Dr. Comen highlighted an exciting treatment for this new classification of metastatic breast cancer patients.
The Major Change That Every Metastatic Breast Cancer Patient Should Get Tested For– SurvivorNet Adviser Dr. Elizabeth Comen On ‘GMA’
“One of the most challenging types of cancer to treat is metastatic breast cancer,” Dr. Comen said. “And a new treatment, an FDA approved treatment, called Enhertu or T-DXd is being used to improve the survival of patients with a new classification of metastatic breast cancer called HER2-low metastatic breast cancer,” said Dr. Comen. “So, for anybody watching if they or their loved one has metastatic breast cancer, it’s critical that they ask their doctor, ‘Do I have HER2-low breast cancer and might this be an appropriate treatment for me?”
Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer
Dr. Elizabeth Comen says there is a lot of hope to be found in the world of metastatic breast cancer.
“I treat women day in and day out who have metastatic breast cancer,” she told SurvivorNet. “And I see the fear in their eyes, and I also see the hope in their eyes.
“And I share in that hope. Why do I share in that hope? Because I have so many patients who are living with their cancer… It isn’t just about living, but living well.”
RELATED: How To Treat Metastatic Breast Cancer: The Drug Trodelvy Shows A Promising Boost In Survival Rates
One person who is “living well” with metastatic breast cancer is Brittney Beadle. She was diagnosed with the disease at just 18 years old, but she’s always made sure her outlook is positive.
“I Have to Live With This, And I Can Do It”: Dealing With Cancer at 18 Years Old
“I thought OK, I have to live with this, but I can do it, and I’m gonna live my best life possible,” Beadle told SurvivorNet. “So I picked up and I moved to Florida and I’m like, this is it, I’m living my life. And I got a job at Universal Studios, where I always wanted to work.”
RELATED: Metastatic Breast Cancer: You Are Not a Statistic
And the management of metastatic breast cancer is changing all the time with ongoing advancements being made. Judy Perkins, for example, became the first person to be declared free of metastatic breast cancer after completing a course of immunotherapy treatments during a 2015 clinical trial.
An Immunotherapy Breakthrough: The Judy Perkins Story
Dr. Steven Rosenberg, Chief of Surgery at the NCI and a pioneer in the field of immunotherapy, previously told SurvivorNet that Perkins was one of the first patients “to teach us that by carefully looking at (her) body’s immune cells, we could identify cells that uniquely recognize her cancer and by growing them in a lab and giving her enough of them we could actually cause the cancer to regress completely.”
It’s safe to say that an advanced stage breast cancer diagnosis does not mean the end of your life. And, hopefully, we’ll find a definitive cure for the disease one day soon.
Learn more about SurvivorNet's rigorous medical review process.