Why Power of Support Amid Adversity Matters
- Actress Shannen Doherty, 52, has amassed an army of support from close friends, family, and fellow co-stars since her cancer journey began, and among them includes fellow actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, 46. She calls Doherty a “warrior” and adds that she is “doing great” while praising her resilience in managing the “ups and downs” of metastatic breast cancer.
- 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.
- 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.
- Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Marianna Strongin says having people by your side while dealing with something emotionally taxing like cancer, a divorce, or a spouse passing can be very beneficial. “It will be important that you surround yourself with individuals who care and support you throughout your treatment,” she wrote in a column for SurvivorNet.
View this post on InstagramRead More“She lives every day, and there’s some fighting, but she lives every day, and there’s some ups and downs,” Gellar told Access Hollywood.
She added that some days are harder than others for Doherty and stressed her admiration for the beloved “Beverly Hills 90210” actress continues to grow because of Doherty’s unrelenting strength and resilience.
“She’s incredible. When they say warrior, she is a warrior,” Gellar added.
Doherty has expressed her gratitude for an army of supporters who have helped her through a tough divorce and stage 4 breast cancer. Doherty recently celebrated the birthday of one of her less famous friends, demonstrating her willingness to commemorate the milestone moments. Doherty’s cute Instagram post captures the joyous occasion, which shows everyone smiling and soaking up the warm sun.
Undoubtedly, Doherty’s friends helped make her emotional cancer journey a little better with their unconditional support. Psychologists tell SurvivorNet that having a support system helps you better cope emotionally along your cancer journey.
Doherty wrote in her Instagram post, “Happy birthday to this kind, funny, witty, sometimes goofy woman that I absolutely adore!”
Dr. Shelly Tworoger, a researcher at Moffitt Cancer Center, shared with SurvivorNet the value of having a strong support group for cancer warriors.
“There’s a number of common things cancer patients can experience, such as anxiety, depression, financial toxicity, social isolation,” Dr. Tworoger said.
But knowing that you have loved ones by your side, like Doherty does, can help ease those fears and anxieties. So, it’s no wonder she’s leaning on these supportive friends right now.
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Why Support Matters
Doherty’s been battling breast cancer since 2015, and ever since, 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 be comprised of strangers who have come together because of a shared cancer experience. Mental health professionals can also be critical parts of a support system.
WATCH: Sharing details about your cancer diagnosis.
“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 need to understand that their emotions can 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.
Shannen’s Emotional Journey that Demonstrates Her Strength and Resilience
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.
WATCH: How to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence?
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?
- Do you have recommendations for someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy exercise?
- Can you recommend a dietician who can help me with healthy eating tips and weight maintenance?
- I’ve been having trouble sleeping. Do you have any treatment recommendations?