Shannen Doherty on living with late-stage breast cancer: 'I try to treasure all the small moments'
One of actress Shannen Doherty’s beloved rituals these days is to sit outside with her dog, a German shepherd named Bowie, with a glass of wine, watching her husband, Kurt Iswarienko, work in their garden.
“I try to treasure all the small moments that most people don’t really see or take for granted,” Doherty told Elle for a story published Tuesday. “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.”
Doherty, 49, opened up to the magazine about her ongoing struggle with breast cancer. While she underwent treatment for the disease — surgery, radiation and chemotherapy — following her initial diagnosis in 2015, she discovered in early 2019 that it had returned and spread. The recurrence was diagnosed after she experienced intense back pain.
As the Beverly Hills, 90210 star recalled, her initial reaction to that devastating news was a reckoning with herself.
“I was like, ‘OK, do I have good karma? Do I have bad karma? Why would I have bad karma?’” she said. “I started taking stock of my life and the things I’d done, and the things I hadn’t done. How I was with people.” Ultimately, she decided that, yes, she had been “a really good human being.”
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She undoubtedly thought back at some point to her years on the phenomenally popular teen soap. At the time, Doherty was the subject of many tabloid reports, and she had a reputation for being difficult. What she hadn’t made public is that she was “struggling a lot,” especially because her father had extensive health issues during those years.
“It becomes a snowball effect. I’m running from my problems and my fears of losing my dad and the pressure of it,” Doherty said. “I went through an incredibly self-destructive stage.”
She infamously left the show after four seasons, so she wasn’t interested in joining last year’s 90210 reboot, BH90210, at least at first. She didn’t want to revisit a tough time from her past. A pitch from her co-star Brian Austin Green, the only cast member she had stayed close with over the years, and the sad death of Luke Perry in March 2019 changed her mind.
“I’m very grateful I did it,” Doherty reflected nearly a year after the final episode aired. “It was nice seeing everyone again from a new perspective.”
She’s beginning to think about her future and what her illness means, but she isn’t at all done. Doherty said she’s working on a new TV show and continuing to be an advocate for breast cancer patients.
“I haven’t sat down to write letters. That’s something I need to do,” Doherty said. “There are things I need to say to my mom. I want my husband to know what he’s meant to me.”
She said she’s come close to making videos for her loved ones to see after she’s gone.
“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,” Doherty said. “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.”
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