Sat. Apr 13th, 2024

Shannen Doherty Hopes Her ‘Legacy’ Will Give a ‘Face and Emotion’ to Cancer

By Michael Mar 12, 2024

For Shannen Doherty, it’s important to be “as honest as possible” about her fight against cancer.

The actress first battled breast cancer between March 2015 and April 2017, and she revealed in February 2020 that the illness had returned. “It’s going to come out in a matter of days or a week that — I’m stage IV. So my cancer came back. And that’s why I’m here,” she told Good Morning America at the time. “I don’t think I’ve processed it. It’s a bitter pill to swallow in a lot of ways.”

Doherty opened up about her emotional lows she’s experienced throughout her health journey. “I definitely have days where I say, ‘Why me?’” she admitted. “And then I go, ‘Well, why not me? Who else? Who else besides me deserves this?’ None of us do.”

In September 2021, Doherty explained why she decided to share details of her struggles with her fans. “I feel like I have a responsibility in my more public life, which I separate from my acting life … to talk about cancer and perhaps educate people more and let people know that people with stage IV are very much alive and very active,” she said during a virtual panel for her movie List of a Lifetime, which follows a woman who makes a bucket list after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis.

When asked whether she made a bucket list following her own diagnosis, Doherty said that she didn’t “I’m very much like, ‘There’s no bucket list because I’m going to be the longest-living person with cancer,’” she told the panel. “If I had to say one, it would just be living. That’s the only thing on my list at this point.”

Keep scrolling to read more of Doherty’s most candid quotes about her cancer battle:

On Her Initial Diagnosis
“There was a lump, and I had a mammogram and then a biopsy,” Doherty recalled to Health Magazine in February 2019. “When I got the results, I was in the car with my mom and I just knew. The longer I sat, the more it started sinking in. Then I started crying. I called my husband and told him. And from there, I just put together a team — including L.A.-based surgeons Dr. Armando Giuliano and Dr. Jay Orringer and oncologist Dr. Lawrence Piro.”
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock
On Early Detection
“Early detection is going to make your prognosis better,” the Charmed alum told Extra in December 2019. “Maybe I wouldn’t have had the surgeries that I’ve had or the chemo I’ve had.”
Broadimage/Shutterstock
On ‘Signing Off’
“I haven’t sat down to write letters. That’s something I need to do. There are things I need to say to my mom. I want my husband to know what he’s meant to me,” the actress told Elle in September 2020 before she got visibly emotional. “But whenever it comes time for me to do it, it feels so final. It feels like you’re signing off, and I’m not signing off. I feel like I’m a very, very healthy human being. It’s hard to wrap up your affairs when you feel like you’re going to live another 10 or 15 years.”
 
Doherty added that she feels like she has “a lot of life” left to live. “I try to treasure all the small moments that most people don’t really see or take for granted,” she said. “The small things are magnified for me. We have this endless well within us, and it’s just about continuing to dig in that well for the strength to face adversity — and so that we can also see all the beauty.”
 
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On Shaving Her Head
“I remember I got in the shower to wash my hair, and it just started coming out in clumps,” Doherty told Health. “I started screaming for my mom. I think that was harder than the surgeries. It was like, ‘Oh my God, this is real.’ Right away, I made the decision to shave my head. My friend came over, and she shaved it. We laughed, and we cried. She shaved it in stages, so it was like a pageboy, then punk rock, shaved on the sides. It was a fun experience, considering that I was devastated.”
Courtesy of Shannen Doherty/Instagram
On Remission
“You hear the word remission and it’s a rush of different emotions,” the Tennessee alum explained on Good Morning America in September 2018. “It’s like, ‘What’s next?’ There’s a little bit of fear and apprehension. I felt lost for a second. I was like, ‘Now what?’ But then it sort of starts seeping in and then you get joyous and you get so excited but then you got to wait for that five-year mark and that 10-year mark — so remission is a crazy word to me.”
Courtesy of Shannen Doherty/Instagram
On Recovering
“I went for walks,” Doherty told Extra. “My husband really forced me out of bed. Sometimes he carried me out the front door. … It started with walking and then it moved to dancing, then it moved to boxing. … Building up my strength was, yes, movement, but also faith.”
Courtesy of Shannen Doherty/Instagram
On Opening Up Online
“It was just about being as honest as possible,” the former child actress explained to Health. “And then it became very important to me that I was there for people who were going through it. I would never give medical advice because I’m not a doctor, but I would always say, ‘Advocate for yourself.’ And also, I get a little less trolls and haters on social media now, so that’s good. I think because cancer stripped me of my defense mechanisms, it allowed people to see all sides of me.”
Rob Latour/Shutterstock
On Social Media Solidarity
“You realize how many people in the world are going through the same struggle as you and that you have such a larger family than you thought,” Doherty told Entertainment Tonight in August 2016. “Because the cancer family is a really large family, and they’re wonderful and embracing and so willing to share their own story with you — and also inspire you and be inspired by you. The amount of love has changed me, it’s just made me appreciate people. I always did, but it’s like a new kind of appreciation.”
To GMA, she added: “I know sharing helped me because, when I got back, these beautiful stories from other people, what they were going through … giving me hope and support and love, it really helped. It’s truly a family. There’s something so beautiful about the journey.”
MediaPunch/Shutterstock
On Husband Kurt Iswarienko
“My marriage was always strong, but [the cancer battle] has made my marriage a thousand times stronger,” the Heathers star told ET. “He’s never missed a chemo. He’s never missed a sick day.”
Courtesy of Shannen Doherty/Instagram
On Her Body
“I love that my body is strong and that it has the ability to fight something like cancer,” Doherty told Health. “I’m trying to show it more appreciation by going to a nutritionist, Dr. Philip Goglia, and doing strength training and boxing at Box ’N Burn almost every day. Importantly, my perception of sexy has changed. For me now, sexy is strength. Sexy is vulnerability. Sexy is compassion. Sexy is grace. Why should I care so much about the physical shell?”
Courtesy of Shannen Doherty/Instagram
On How Cancer Has Changed Her
“I think it made me a better actor,” the actress revealed on GMA. “I also think it made me a better human being. It takes down all your walls, all your barriers, everything that life sort of threw at you … You’re guarding yourself, so yeah, that all comes tumbling down.”
Courtesy of Shannen Doherty/Instagram
On Self-Acceptance
On an October 2016 episode of Chelsea, Doherty said, “I think what’s beautiful and hard and interesting about cancer is that it tears you down and builds you, and tears you down and builds you. It remakes you so many different times. The person I thought I was supposed to be or was going to be or who I thought I was six months ago is now somebody completely different. And I realize, ‘Wow, I really thought that I was so brave and so gracious this entire time and really I was just hiding.’”
Courtesy of Shannen Doherty/Instagram
On the Joys of Her Life
“It’s the little things that are making me laugh,” Doherty revealed to Health. “The expressions on my dog’s face. My husband playing air guitar as we walk down the street. It’s all those little moments, the ones that make me smile and feel very joyful that I’m still here to enjoy them.”
Courtesy of Shannen Doherty/Instagram
On the Unknown
“The unknown is always the scariest part,” the animal rights activist told ET. “Is the chemo going to work? Is the radiation going to work? You know, am I going to have to go through this again, or am I going to get secondary cancer? Everything else is manageable. Pain is manageable, you know living without a breast is manageable, it’s the worry of your future and how your future is going to affect the people that you love.”
Courtesy of Shannen Doherty/Instagram
On Making the Most of Life
“I want people to not hear stage IV cancer and think of the person as gray and falling over,” she told BFF Sarah Michelle Gellar in an October 2020 Entertainment Tonight interview. “You get written off so quickly even though you’re still vital and healthy and happy. People instantly think it’s a death sentence and it’s not.”
YouTube
On Thinking Positively
“My husband says that you would never know that I have cancer,” Doherty said in September 2021. “I never really complain. I don’t really talk about it. It’s part of life at this point.”
Mediapunch/Shutterstock
On Not Giving Up
“You really have to dig deep to face cancer, and in that, you find all this stuff that you had hidden away,” the Mallrats actress told Good Morning America in October 2021. “And it’s beautiful things that you find: You find the vulnerability, you find your trust in people again. You find forgiveness.”
She added that she tries not to think about her life in terms of a “bucket list,” because it implies that she’s already given up. “A bucket list almost feels like those are things to check off before you die, and I never want to operate like that,” she explained. “I just want to operate as, I don’t have things to check off because I’m going to keep fighting to stay alive.”
MediaPunch/Shutterstock
On Remembering Her Decision to Shave Her Head
Doherty shared candid snaps in October 2021 from the emotional moment she decided to shave her hair off amid her ongoing cancer battle.
The actress captioned her Instagram post, writing, “When I started chemotherapy, I tried a cold cap in hopes of saving my hair. While it works for many and is amazing, it didn’t work for me. My hair was falling out in clumps when I washed it, I had bald spots and it became increasingly harder to cover those up.”
She continued, “I finally made a decision to shave what was left of my hair. It was a battle on its own. I loved my hair. It had defined me to a certain extent and provided me with a security blanket of sorts. I’m sharing with you the day the decision was made to shave my head. #breastcancerawareness.”
Courtesy of Shannen Doherty/Instagram
Her ‘Ultimate, Ultimate’ Dream
“If I were dreaming of what would happen in 2022, I think lot more research and progression as far as finding the cure for cancer is my ultimate, ultimate dream. … Even though I am thriving and I’m doing well, I still have cancer,” Doherty told ET in December 2021. “You don’t want stage IV [cancer], but I have it and so I think in the back of my mind, this constant sort of ‘OK, what can I do to help bring more awareness, what can I do the help raise money, what can I do to sort of push research for not just myself but for everybody else who is suffering from cancer?'”
She also wished that her “health just continues to be stable and that I continue the relationships with my husband and my mom and my friends and I hope their work continues to grow and it only gets better. … I just I hope that next year, work-wise continues. I hope I continue to get these opportunities and that I continue to work with people that I’ve always admired and wanted to work with.”
Broadimage/Shutterstock
#CancerSlayer
The 90210 alum kept fans updated via Instagram in March 2022, sharing a selfie while being treated. “Early morning doctors visit for scans. Blurry eyed. Hair askew but the new bandage wraps made me smile!” Doherty captioned the two-photo Instagram slideshow and adding the hashtag, “#cancerslayer.”
Courtesy of Shannen Doherty/Instagram
Fighting for Health Insurance Coverage
Fighting for Health Insurance Coverage Doherty slammed SAG-AFTRA in a lengthy Instagram post shared in March 2023, tagging president Fran Drescher while demanding more healthcare rights. The actress accompanied the viral upload with a photo of herself receiving an IV treatment.
“@Officialfrandrescher I’m curious for people like me who have worked since they were 10 and paid dues to @sagaftra how when we aren’t able to work for health reasons why our union abandons us,” she penned. “I think we can do better for all our members and I think you’re [the] person to do it.”
She added: “Health insurance shouldn’t be based on annual income. It’s a lifetime contribution. And for me and many others, we have paid a lifetime of dues to only be canceled because we don’t meet your current criteria. Not OK.”
Dozens of stars supported Doherty in the comments of the post, revealing their own health insurance difficulties with the union and uploading their own stories via social media at the time.
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Confessing Her Fear
In June 2023, Doherty revealed that her breast cancer spread to her brain in January of that year. “January 12, the first round of radiation took place,” she wrote via Instagram alongside a video that showed her crying as she underwent treatment. “My fear is obvious. I am extremely claustrophobic and there was a lot going on in my life.” She went on to say that she’s “fortunate” to have great doctors, adding, “But that fear…. The turmoil….. the timing of it all…. This is what cancer can look like.” 
Frank Micelotta/Fox/Picturegroup/Shutterstock
On Her Cancer Spreading
Doherty revealed in November 2023 that her breast cancer was also in her bones following its spread to her brain. “I don’t want to die,” she told People. “I’m not done with living. I’m not done with loving. I’m not done with creating. I’m not done with hopefully changing things for the better.”

Despite the emotional weight of her health battle, Doherty said the journey made her “look for the bigger purpose in life.”

She added, “My greatest memory is yet to come. I pray. I wake up and go to bed thanking God, praying for the things that matter to me without asking for too much. It connects me to a higher power and spirituality. My faith is my mantra.”
Courtesy of Shannen Doherty/Instagram

Her Hope for the Future
“Every day is a gift, and there are so many new things in the works that I think hope is always there. I think it’s so important. Listen, I can die today, I can die in 20 years, I don’t know. I can die walking outside of my house and a tree falling on me or a bus hitting me, whatever,” Doherty said on her “Let’s Be Clear” podcast in January 2024. “Or I can die of cancer. But all I can do is live each day in as much of a positive manner with hope as I can and embrace it and feel like, ‘Wow, I get to wake up again today, what can I do?’ I believe that positivity that you bring into your life, I think it helps with your whole body. I think that it helps you fight the cancer. Mind over matter a little bit.”
 
Vera Anderson/WireImage/Getty Images
On Her Legacy
During a March 2024 episode of her “Let’s Be Clear” podcast, Doherty opened up about what she would like her legacy to be after her death. 
“Looking at legacy in a very simple way, I hope my legacy is that I was a really good daughter,” she shared. “And then on a bigger scale, I hope I put a face and emotion to cancer. And that I helped as many people as possible.” 
Doherty added that despite having an “interesting” and “incredibly” challenging past few years, she’s “happy” with where her life is today.
“Every day is a challenge because with cancer, things change all the time. Your protocols stop working, you think you’ve got this protocol working, and then all of a sudden, your body stops reacting to it. Those are hard moments to get through,” she said. “But I am happy because I am still here. And I still have people in my life now that truly love me and that will walk through hell with me and for me, and I was missing that for a lot of years of my life.”
Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

By Michael

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