Support Through Treatment Makes All The Difference
- Shannen Doherty, 52, is celebrating her mom’s birthday. We’re delighted to see the beloved actress enjoying life’s milestones and spending time with her mom Rosa Elizabeth Doherty, who turned 76 years old today.
- Doherty was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. It went into remission in 2017 but returned as stage 4 cancer in 2019. Her breast cancer has since spread to her brain causing her to undergo surgery to remove a tumor in her brain.
- 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.
- Supporting a friend or loved one with cancer can be hard. 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 52-year-old metastatic breast cancer warrior took to her Instagram page on Monday morning to commemorate her mother turning another year older.
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“My mom turned 76 young today!!!” Doherty captioned a followup Instagram post, featuring a photo of the “90210” actress standing with her mom, alongside a few other loved ones, at a Unocal 76 gas located at the corner of Corral Cayon Rd. and the Pacific Coast Hwy. in Malibu, California.
Doherty often writes thoughtful words on her mom’s birthday in her social media posts. Back in 2016, Doherty posted another selfie of her and her mom, showing off her bald head amid cancer treatment.
“Happy birthday to my beautiful mom who has taught me so much about strength, dignity and grace. I love you mom. You are truly in a class all by yourself. @themamarosa #thisistherealdeal #classpersonified #lovemymom,” Doherty wrote.
In 2018, Doherty enjoyed a night out with her mom for her birthday, sharing the photos to Instagram as she usually does, writing, “A day and night filled with love, kindness and joy celebrating the birthday of the best mom ever. I love you mom. Happy birthday.”
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Doherty’s mom’s birthday comes shortly after the actress told People Magazine that her metastatic breast cancer that has since spread to her brain has complicated her dreams of motherhood and finding love following her divorce from Kurt Iswarienko.
“I would love nothing more than to be a mom,” she told People Magazine in a recent interview.
Referring to her cancer journey, she explained, “It was definitely one of those moments where you wonder if you’re going to make it at all, but it’s also where you learn the most about yourself because you have to really dig deep and gather the strength to face it head on and keep marching forward.”
Doherty added, “I look at kids who don’t have parents at all – any amount of time [with a parent] is better than nothing. I vacillate. I’m biding my time, but in the meantime, I’ve got my brother’s seven kids and my best friend’s kids, who I kind of view as my children.”
Shannen Doherty’s Breast Cancer Battle
Shannen Doherty first received a breast cancer diagnosis in 2015 after she discovered a lump in her breast. For treatments the first time around, she underwent hormone therapy, a single mastectomy (the removal of all breast tissue from one breast), chemotherapy and radiation.
Then in 2017, Doherty was deemed to be in remission, however, the cancer returned just two years later in 2019.
This time, her diagnosis was metastatic, or stage four, breast cancer.
There is technically no cure for metastatic breast cancer, but that doesn’t mean people can’t live good, long lives with this stage of disease, thanks to hormone therapy, chemotherapy, targeted drugs and immunotherapy, as well as a combination of treatments.
Expert Support Resources For Cancer Warrios
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- ‘Put Your Trust In God!’ Robin Roberts Says Powerful Instagram Prayer From Her Dressing Room As She Relies On Her Faith To Support Her Partner ‘Sweet Amber’ In Her Cancer Fight
Doherty took to Instagram at the start of this year to recap how her cancer fight is going. She underwent her first round of radiation to her head on Jan. 12, 2023, followed by brain surgery to remove and biopsy a tumor on Jan. 16, 2023. The surgery she underwent is called a craniotomy.
‘It’s a procedure to cut out a tumor and it can be metastasized or a tumor that started someplace else like the breasts and went to the brain especially if the tumor is causing symptoms or if it’s large,” Dr. Kimberly Hoang, a board-certified neurosurgeon at Emory University School of Medicine, explained.
Several neurosurgeons tell SurvivorNet that the procedure can allow patients with cancer in their brain to live longer, more vibrant lives, and this appears to be the case with Doherty seen smiling this weekend during her mom’s birthday celebrations.
“A couple of decades ago, to have a brain metastasis was a very bad prognosis for patients. 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 said.
Being There for Cancer Survivors
It is important cancer warriors in the midst of their fight to have a strong support system. So how can you support a loved on in your life who is fighting cancer? SurvivorNet suggests multiple ways you can do so.
Dr. Shelly Tworoger, a researcher at Moffitt Cancer Center told SurvivorNet that “there’s a number of common things cancer patients can experience, such as anxiety, depression, financial toxicity, social isolation and sometimes even PTSD.”
So helping to ease those feelings is a great way to support your loved one.
You can help complete household chores or running errands during the day, which your loved one may not have the time or energy to do. Or, you can simply lend an ear so patients can talk through their feelings, which can help them cope with what they are experiencing during this difficult time.
Meanwhile, there are some practical tips to help you interact with your loved one in a meaningful way. Our experts suggest to avoid asking “how you can help.” Instead, be proactive and offer tangible things you can do for them to make their lives easier. That could include bringing them food, cooking them dinner or playing a board game with them, anything that will bring them joy.
You may also be interested in sending them gifts to help them through their cancer journey. Our gift guide for cancer patients offers several suggestions for meaningful items you can give your loved one, such as bubble bath supplies for a night of self care or a nice, warm blanket for comfort during a chemo session.
Five Ways You Can Support Someone 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. 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, and 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.
The Benefit of Emotional Support
Having a level of emotional support, like Doherty has from her beloved mom, during a cancer battle is irreplaceable. For those of us lucky enough to still have our mothers and close family members with us, we may want to pick up the phone and remind them how special they are.
Going through cancer can be difficult at almost every stage and so understanding how to mange the flood of emotions that come with diagnosis and treatment is important.
Sarah Stapleton Explains How Social Workers Help After a Cancer Diagnosis
Whether or not you have a support system at home, it may be a good idea to seek counseling when dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Often you can find a social worker through your cancer center, and they can help you through this process. It’s exceptionally important to remember to take care of your mental health, as well as your physical.
Social Worker Sarah Stapleton suggested in an earlier conversation with SurvivorNet doing two to three counseling sessions before making the decision if it is, or isn’t, right for you. Going to counseling with a spouse, friend, or family member can be equally, if not even more, beneficial.
Moms & Supportive Family Through Cancer
Like actress Shannen Doherty, many people find that spending time with loved ones, like their parents, partners, or children, is helpful during a cancer battle. In an earlier interview, ovarian cancer survivor Beverly Reeves stresses how critical it is to have a supportive, loving community guiding you during your cancer battle.
Reeves tells SurvivorNet, “If I had one piece of advice for someone who had just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it would be to get a strong support group together. Get your close friends. If you’re connected to a faith community, get your faith community.”
“Get your family,” says Reeves. “Let them know what’s going on and let them help you. And sometimes that’s the most difficult thing to do, but just know that they are there. If they love you, they’re there to help you. And don’t be embarrassed.”
She continues, “Because this is a cancer that not a lot of people want to talk about. But it’s real and we need to talk about it, and we do need that help.
“So talk to your family and your friends and your faith community, and get that network together so they can support you and be there for you.”
Reaching Milestones as a Cancer Survivor
Reaching milestones during or after a cancer battle is huge. These events, like getting engaged, reaching another birthday, or a “cancerversary,” may mean even more than they did previously, so it’s important to take them all in and celebrate all that you’ve overcome.
Chrissy Degennaro is also a cancer warrior determined to keep enjoying these precious milestones. She has been battling a rare blood cancer called multiple myeloma for 14 years, and was first diagnosed when she was just 36 years old with a 2-year-old son.
When she was given her diagnosis, she almost expected to not be able to see him enter kindergarten. But thanks to 27 rounds of chemotherapy, two stem cell transplants, a CAR-T cell trial and two CAR-T cell transplants over following 14 years, she’s able to keep making memories with her family.
“You know, I do live one day at a time,” Chrissy previously told SurvivorNet. “Now, maybe I can go a week, a month, but things are looking pretty good. I’m able to be here for more milestones for my son, for more holidays, more birthdays. I do feel like I have had another chance at life.”
We love how Doherty is keeping an attitude of joy and celebrating milestones throughout her metastatic breast cancer journey.
Anecdotal evidence from SurvivorNet experts points to how a positive mindset and gratitude can positively impact a cancer prognosis.
One oncologist at Cedars-Sinai tells SurvivorNet in an earlier interview, “My patients who thrive, even with stage 4 cancer, from the time that they, about a month after they’re diagnosed, I kind of am pretty good at seeing who is going to be OK. Now doesn’t that mean I’m good at saying that the cancer won’t grow,” he says.
“But I’m pretty good at telling what kind of patient are going to still have this attitude and probably going to live the longest, even with bad, bad disease. And those are patients who, they have gratitude in life.”
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff