Shannen Doherty Says Breast Cancer Tore Down 'Every Wall I Built'
The actress says her breast cancer battle taught her to "cut myself some slack"
The 47-year-old actress went into remission nearly two years ago, and in reflecting on her journey through diagnosis, treatment and surgery, she says her life has changed.
“I felt more feminine and vulnerable than I’ve felt in my entire life,” Doherty tells Health for their March cover. “I was always used to being the strong one, and during that time period, every wall I’d built up in my life came down. I also had a lot more time to look at myself and say, ‘I’m a pretty okay person’ and cut myself some slack. I’ve had a lot of those epiphanies. It’s OK to stumble.”
Tearing down those walls also encouraged Doherty to share her experience with followers on social media.
“It was just about being as honest as possible. And then it became very important to me that I was there for people who were going through it,” she said. “I would never give medical advice because I’m not a doctor, but I would always say, ‘Advocate for yourself.’ “
Plus, Doherty said, exposing her true feelings online reduced the bullying.
“I get a little less trolls and haters on social media now, so that’s good,” she says. “I think because cancer stripped me of my defense mechanisms, it allowed people to see all sides of me.”
A particularly vulnerable social media moment was when she shared her decision to shave her head, which followed what Doherty said was one of the toughest parts of her journey: losing her hair.
“I remember I got in the shower to wash my hair, and it just started coming out in clumps. I started screaming for my mom,” she said. “I think that was harder than the surgeries. It was like, ‘Oh my God, this is real.’ “
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Another rough moment was during her chemotherapy, when she became too ill to consume any foods or liquids and her husband, Kurt Iswarienko, thought it might be the end.
“They were worried about my organs shutting down because I couldn’t keep anything in,” she explained. “One time, I couldn’t lift my head, I couldn’t suck on an ice cube, I was done. And Kurt was crying, saying, ‘Please don’t leave me.’ I looked at him and thought, ‘I can’t do this to him.’ So I dug deep, gathered everything up, and charged forward again. Kurt and I got through one of the worst things a couple can go through, and we came out stronger.”
Now that Doherty is doing well in remission, she and Iswarienko have a big decision to make about whether they should go forward with their plans to have children. She can no longer get pregnant because the hormone treatments she’s still on have put her in menopause, but the couple is considering alternative options.
“We’re having conversations about an egg donor, maybe adoption. But there’s fear there,” she said. “Am I going to last five years? Ten years? I certainly wouldn’t want my 10-year-old burying a mother. I’ve always wanted a kid. But maybe I’m supposed to mother in a different way.”
For now, Doherty is just excited to start working full-time again and is feeling strong.
“I love that my body is strong and that it has the ability to fight something like cancer,” she said. “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. 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?”