Actress Shannen Doherty, 52, is determined not to give up despite fighting stage 4 breast cancer and wrangling with a divorce. She’s undergone brain surgery due to her cancer and filed for divorce from her long-time husband Kurt Iswarienko so far this year.
While we don’t know all aspects of her cancer journey and the lead-up to her divorce, we do know the impact overcoming adversity can have on a person’s mental health and resilience.
Doherty, 52, became a household name after she grabbed the hearts and minds of TV viewers of “Beverly Hills 90210” portraying Brenda Walsh. She also starred in “Charmed” during the 1990s. Off-screen, in the years that followed the beloved actress was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015.
It went into remission in 2017 but returned as stage 4 (or metastatic) in 2019. Metastatic cancer, for which there is no cure, means it has spread to distant areas of the body, like the bones, liver, lungs, or brain.
This year, her cancer journey involved surgery, radiation, and divorce.
This past April, she filed for divorce from her husband of 11 years. People Magazine snapped a photo of her without her wedding ring. According to the media outlet, Doherty and Iswarienko separated in January although Doherty’s representative said, “Divorce is the last thing Shannen wanted.”
However, we later learned something else happened near the time she split from her former husband. In January, she underwent treatment for breast cancer that spread to her brain in a process called brain metastasis.
She shared a series of photos and videos of her getting prepared for radiation treatment on her head. During radiation, high-energy beams are aimed at the location doctors believe cancer cells to be. The MRI helps doctors pinpoint the exact location of the tumor within the skull.
She also underwent a craniotomy brain surgery where doctors worked to remove cancer from her brain.
“We take off the bone overlaying the area we need to get to. We open the little envelope around the brain called the dura and then we move through the brain tissue to get to where the tumor is to try to cut out as much as we can safely without hurting the patient’s function or other important things like big blood vessels that can cause things like a stroke,” says board-certified neurosurgeon at Emory University School of Medicine Dr. Kimberly Hoang.
After the procedure, the patient is closely monitored and usually receives radiation to keep the tumor from growing back.
“Because many patients can have more than one brain tumor or metastasis from their cancer, that was not reasonable to think about surgery for, they also get radiation for those spots as well to try to keep those tumors from growing or shrink them down,” Dr. Hoang further explained to SurvivorNet.
Doherty’s prognosis after having surgery to remove cancer from her brain is an encouraging sign of progress several neurosurgeons tell SurvivorNet.
“A couple of decades ago, to have a brain metastasis was a very bad prognosis for patients. They didn’t live for more than a couple of months, so it was a very terminal thing. Thanks to a lot of advancements in microsurgery we do and radiation…patients are living longer,” Dr. Hoang said