Shannen Doherty 'Really Learned a Lot About Myself' From Battling Metastatic Breast Cancer

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Shannen Doherty isn’t letting a devastating cancer diagnosis keep her from embracing life and everything it has to offer. In a recent People cover story and the debut episode of her new podcast, Let’s Be Clear with Shannen, the Charmed star opened up about her mindset as she battles stage 4 metastatic breast cancer and why she’s not afraid of death, but knows she still has so much to do while she’s here.

“People don’t know a lot about cancer,” Doherty told People. “I think they just sort of assume that it means you can’t walk, you can’t eat, you can’t work. People put you out to pasture at a very early age — ‘You’re done. You’re retired’ — and we’re not.” Cancer patients, the actress says, are “vibrant, and we have such a different outlook on life. We’re just so grateful for every second, every hour, every day that we get to be here. We are people who want to work and embrace life and keep moving forward.”

More from SheKnows

Doherty was initially diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. She underwent treatment and went into remission, but the cancer returned in 2019, and a year later, she announced a diagnosis of stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.

“It’s stage 4 breast cancer that spread into my bones,” Doherty explained. “But we’re on a very good regimen now and it’s working well for me so day by day, month by month, year by year.”

In January, Doherty found out that the cancer had spread to her brain, and she underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor, calling it “one of the scariest things I’ve been through in my entire life.” In the aftermath, she struggled with the movement in her right hand due to brain swelling. “I couldn’t hold a glass in my right hand,” the Beverly Hills, 90210 star said. “There were a few little glitches… but it really only lasted probably three or four months before everything came right back.”

Through it all, Doherty found strength through her upbringing and faith. “I’m a big believer that everything that you go through is for a reason,” she explained. “It takes work and perseverance and a lot of dedication and faith to get through certain things. I have an amazing support system and I am not a quitter.”

A special source of inspiration is Doherty’s mother, who suffered an aneurysm when Doherty was a child that left her with a 10 percent chance of living. When her mother woke up, she was unable to move one of her eyebrows, and practiced doggedly to restore its mobility. “I watched her work solidly every single day,” Doherty remembered. “I come from that kind of stock… she impressed that on me as a very young child. You don’t give up. You can accomplish anything that you set your mind to. You just have to work hard at it.”

That mindset informs her unwavering determination to continue working and living life to the fullest. “My life up until this moment was all getting me ready for what God has me here to accomplish… and that’s to reach people who have cancer,” said Doherty. “To help build awareness, to help raise money… I do it because I have a platform and I have a responsibility, not only to myself but to my fellow cancer family.”

In her podcast, Doherty explains that her loved ones and cancer community ultimately helped her find strength. “I really learned a lot about myself,” she said. “And I learned a lot about the people in my life. I learned about my own well of strength and being able to dig deep.”

Doherty had to prove that strength to herself throughout the journey. She remembered losing a lot of weight due to chemo — “I dropped down to 92 pounds… and was incredibly dehydrated” — but “I had to still get out of bed,” she explained. “At that point in time I thought that I wouldn’t survive it.”

It was “kindness,” both from her loved ones and strangers who shared their own cancer experiences, that helped her get through it. “To have that connection… It sort of wrapped me into this cocoon of safety,” Doherty said. “It made me feel less ostracized from the world and like I was a part of something, which then started my feeling of deep, deep responsibility to share my story.”

Doherty has a lot she wants to get done, which is why, when she contemplates the end of her life, she knows she’s not ready to die just yet. “I’m not afraid of death because I know where I’m going. I know the people that I’m gonna see,” she explained to People. “I’m not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to die. Like, ever! I’m not done with life, 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.”

It’s an acceptance of her diagnosis and prognosis, along with a sense of purpose that keeps her focused and moving forward. “I am a very spiritual person and so when I have done what I am here for on this earth for, then that’ll be fine,” Doherty says. “But I’m not anywhere near that.”

Before you go, read about more celebs opening up about their health issues to raise awareness:

Best of SheKnows

Sign up for SheKnows' Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.