Shannen Doherty says cancer struggle changed her: 'It just opens your heart'

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Shannen Doherty promotes the "Beverly Hills, 90210" revival series, "BH90210," at Fox Studios on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Shannen Doherty promotes BH90210 at Fox Studios on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Nearly five years out from a breast cancer diagnosis and almost three years after completing treatment of chemotherapy and radiation, actress Shannen Doherty is a very different woman.

“It allowed me to be more vulnerable,” Doherty tells Yahoo Entertainment. “So I used to have a big wall around me and it was quite hard for me to let people in, and I found that cancer just ripped that wall completely down. Of course, you’re sitting there, hooked up to an IV and you’re getting chemo and you’re throwing up and, you know, you really have to count on the people around you, whether it be family or the nurse who’s administering [treatment], or the patient next to you who’s going through the same thing, who’s like holding your hand through it. It just opens your heart, at least it did for me.”

The Beverly Hills, 90210 actress, now a cancer patient advocate, visited a mobile mammography van parked in Glendale, Calif., on Thursday during Cancer Screen Week. The week is a public health initiative, organized by the American Cancer Society, Stand Up to Cancer and others, to promote the importance of cancer screenings and early detection. People can find out which screenings are appropriate for them and where to get them at the Cancer Screen Week website.

(Photo: Instagram)
(Photo: Instagram)

“I’ve now been down this road with several friends of mine and every single one who did not pay attention and who did not go and get screened, every single one is so much further down the line of cancer and is really dealing with a lot of bigger issues, as opposed to had they gone in earlier,” says Doherty, now 48.

Doherty, who underwent a mastectomy in May 2016, revealed in August of that year that cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Following her treatment, she continues to go in for check-ups and screenings. She understands the fear that might keep some people away, but she knows how important it is to overcome it.

“Even if I went there and it came back as, you know, that my cancer had come back, I would still have peace of mind that I was on top of it very quickly, unlike last time,” Doherty explains. “So, yeah, for me, it’s incredibly important to constantly go. I get blood tests, and I get PET scans, and it’s not just for me, right? It’s for my family, too.”

Doherty, who married Kurt Iswarienko in 2011, says her priorities have shifted since her diagnosis. Surviving cancer gave her a different perspective.

“You look at your life and sometimes you just say, yeah, this is not what’s gonna fulfill me, this is not what’s gonna make me happy,” she says. “I think I’m quite picky now about being an actor and sort of what I want to do. I don’t have the same drive or ambition as I used to have in my 20s and 30s, where I worked constantly and didn’t really take breaks. I felt like I had to prove something. I don’t really have anything to prove at this point in my life.”

After all, she was strong enough to make it through the traumatic experience of cancer.

“That solidified everything for me of what I should feel about myself and where my priorities should be and the fact that, yeah, I don’t really have a desire to prove myself to the entertainment industry,” Doherty explains. “What I do have the desire to do is to bring awareness to everybody out there about how important it is to take care of yourself, how important it is to get screened and to make the time to go do it, and just to work on projects that are meaningful, and for me, that happens to be the stuff that’s going to help other human beings or help the planet or help animals. I think I’m all about giving back right now, because I’m really, really, really lucky to be here. So I have to pay it forward.”

In her own life, Doherty has made more concrete changes, too. She eats a more plant-based diet, with much of the vegetables from her own garden, until it was destroyed in last year’s Woolsey Fire. She’s hoping to rebuild it eventually, but she’s continued to eat mostly organic food and drink less alcohol. She gets more exercise, often hiking, and pays close attention to the ingredients of lotions and other products she’s putting on her body.

“I think you just become a healthier human being, which in the end makes you feel a lot better,” she says.

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