For Shannen Doherty, 49, living with metastatic breast cancer means drawing on the well of support that ripples through the relationships in her life.Read More
For Doherty, one of those “family” members is her friend, actress, Sarah Michell Gellar, 43. The other is her husband, Ken Iswarienko, 46. “Then there’s us,” she writes (below) of the talented photographer she married in October 2011.
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Cancer Doesn’t “Define Her”
“Life is tough, but Shannen’s a lot tougher,” Gellar told US Weekly in February after Doherty revealed her stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis. “Cancer is not something that defines her.”
“It’s an experience that certainly changed her — and changed all of us,” she said. “But it’s made the world see a side of Shannen that I’ve always known.”
Kelly Shanahan has metastatic breast cancer and she is a doctor – so she’s seen and heard all the breast cancer statistics, but she doesn’t live by those numbers.
“She’s a tough chick on the outside but she’s not necessarily on the inside,” Gellar said, “she’s been dealing with this for a long time.”
Doherty and the former “Buffy and the Vaplire Slayer” star have been friends since the late 1990s.
Shannen Doherty’s Breast Cancer Journey
Doherty was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. Early efforts to treat her cancer without a mastectomy or aggressive treatments were not enough as doctors realized her cancer had spread to the lymph nodes.
Dr. Heather McArthur, Medical Director of Breast Oncology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, says PARP inhibitor drugs can be more effective than chemotherapy in fighting metastatic breast cancer.
The actress underwent estrogen therapy treatments, a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery before declaring herself cancer-free in 2018.
At the time, she acknowledged that the treatment had caused her to enter menopause, making pregnancy impossible without taking hormone pills. She decided against it due to fear that estrogen levels can increase the chance of cancer returning.
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This was a few years ago. Chemo resulted in hair falling out in clumps. I was devastated….I was sick, worried, stressed and the hair loss was just yet another reminder of how bad things were. I called @annemkortright and she said to me hang tight I’ll be right there. She jumped in her car, went and bought a shaver and got to me super quick. She made a horrible thing touching, funny, memorable, bearable. I have relied on her for countless years and she always shows up. Yes she’s beautiful but beauty is nothing if it isn’t outshined by the beauty inside. She radiates beauty from the inside and out. I know that my life is better with her in it. Many feel the same I’m sure but everyone should know that she is one of a kind. AM…. I treasure you, I depend on you and I love you so much. I hope I give back some of what you give to me and everyone else you impact. Thank you for being my friend. I love you to the moon and back. Damn isolation!! I wish I could be with you to hug you and share on this very special day…. the day you were born. Happy birthday. #bff #bananas #partneringood
In her Feb. 4 interview with ABC’s Amy Robach, herself a breast cancer survivor, Doherty added, “I definitely have days where I say, ‘Why me?’ And then I go, ‘Well, why not me? Who else? Who else besides me deserves this?’” Doherty said. “None of us do.”
In July, Doherty appeared on the American Cancer Society’s “Light Up The Night” virtual event where she summed up metastatic cancer survivorship with one word:
“I’m going to go with ‘grateful’. There are so many things to be grateful for from the start to the finish.”
Coping with a Late-Stage Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Stage 4 breast cancer means that your cancer has metastasized and is no longer regionalized to the breast. While treatable, this cancer currently has no cure.
While we don’t know the specifics of Doherty’s breast cancer, treatment options for metastatic disease include hormone therapy, chemotherapy and targeted drugs. Sometimes surgery and/or radiation is considered. The goal is “progression-free disease”. Treatment is designed to keep you as stable as possible, slow the tumor growth, and improve quality of life.