Inside Shannen Doherty’s Cancer Battle: An 8-Year Timeline


Shannen Doherty is sharing some heartbreaking news. The Beverly Hills, 90210 star says her cancer has spread to her bones, but she vows to keep fighting.

In an interview with People, the 52-year-old actress also said she hopes to become part of clinical trials, though she laments that there’s yet a cure for cancer. And as she continues to go through treatment, Doherty says she is not letting anything get in the way of her raising awareness or working to battle the disease.

“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,” Doherty tells the magazine. “I’m just not — I’m not done.”

The health update comes some four months after Doherty revealed that the stage 4 breast cancer she has been battling for the last few years spread to her brain. In a somber Instagram post, Doherty revealed the emotional roller coaster she went through while being placed under a machine for radiation treatment.

“My fear is obvious. I am extremely claustrophobic and there was a lot going on in my life,” wrote the Charmed actress in her caption to a video showing the process of getting fitted for a mask one wears during radiation to the brain. “I am fortunate as I have great doctors like Dr Amin Mirahdi and the amazing techs at cedar sinai. But that fear…. The turmoil….. the timing of it all…. This is what cancer can look like.”

Doherty was first diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2015. The cancer went into remission in 2017, but its aggressiveness was underscored when she publicly revealed in 2020 that she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.

Making matters worse, Doherty had been living with the diagnosis privately for about a year. It was only until her court case with State Farm when details of her health issues came to light, after she chose to come forward with the news herself to control the narrative surrounding her cancer.

In the years since she was first diagnosed with breast cancer, Doherty has faced a myriad of tumultuous battles, from suing her management firm and suing State Farm to filing for divorce from Kurt Iswarienko after 11 years of marriage. With so much happening since her 2015 diagnosis, ET takes a look back at Doherty’s fight against the disease.

February 2015 — The first cancer diagnosis 

Doherty sued her former management company, Tanner Mainstain, claiming that a likely mastectomy and chemotherapy treatment potentially could have been avoided had her health insurance coverage been kept up to date.

In her lawsuit, Doherty claimed the management company is to blame for an alleged lapse in her healthcare insurance. It was during that lapse, she alleged, that she went without a regular checkup, which gave the cancer a chance to spread. In her filing, Doherty claimed the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) sent a premium invoice to the firm in November 2013, but the defendants “failed to pay it (without informing [Doherty])” and then promptly terminated their relationship with” Doherty “effective Feb. 7, 2014.”

It wasn’t until she re-enrolled with SAG Insurance in 2015 when she finally was able to see doctors again, and that’s when she was given the breast cancer diagnosis.

The complaint further claimed that “had she been insured and able to visit her doctor, the cancer could potentially have been stopped, thus obviating the need for the future treatment (including mastectomy and chemotherapy) that Plaintiff will likely have to suffer through now.”

Doherty had a single mastectomy in May 2015. She struck a settlement with her former managers in August 2016.

July 2016 — Doherty shaves her head

One of the more difficult experiences for Doherty was losing her iconic hair — the long dark locks and blunt bangs she had sported since her Brenda Walsh days. She told ET that she had the support of family and friends. With their help, she was able to turn a heartbreaking moment into an inspiring one when she shared photos of herself shaving her head.

“After my second treatment, my hair was really matted, like in dreadlocks. And I went to try and brush it out, and it just fell out,” Doherty recalled. “I just remember holding onto huge clumps of my hair in my hands, and just running to my mom crying, like, ‘My hair, my hair, my hair, my hair.'”

“It was just shedding and it was driving me crazy,” she continues. “It was just clumps, and I was like, ‘Just grab the kitchen scissors.’ And my mom’s like, ‘Wait, wait, wait.’ I’m just, like, ‘Grab it.’ She went and grabbed the kitchen scissors, and put it in a ponytail and she just chopped it off. And it was this cute little bob, but it wasn’t enough, you know, it was falling out.”

In an emotional sit-down interview with ET, Doherty shared her outlook amid her battle.

“It’s hard,” she acknowledged, shedding tears. “I started thinking that I wasn’t going to live… I don’t look past today.”

“I don’t know if I’ll ever look like me again,” she added, wearing a scarf over her head.


August 2016 — The cancer spreads

Just weeks before settling her lawsuit against her her ex-manager, Doherty exclusively told ET that the cancer had spread.

“I had breast cancer that spread to the lymph nodes, and from one of my surgeries we discovered that some of the cancer cells might have actually gone out of the lymph nodes,” Doherty told ET at the time. “So for that reason, we are doing chemo, and then after chemo, I’ll do radiation.”

The following month, in September, Doherty’s doctor told ET she’s “nearly finished” with chemotherapy, after starting the treatment in July.

“Shannen is doing amazing,” Dr. Lawrence Piro said. “We have just a few more weeks of treatment, and then we’ll be nearly finished with the chemotherapy.”

April 2017 — She’s in remission 

Doherty took to Instagram and shared that she was in remission and that “the next five years is crucial” in her recovery from breast cancer.

“Moments. They happen. Today was and is a moment,” Doherty wrote at the time. “What does remission mean? I heard that word and have no idea how to react. Good news? YES. Overwhelming. YES.”

“Now more waiting. As every single one of my fellow cancer family knows, the next five years is crucial. Reoccurrences happen all the time. Many of you have shared that very story with me,” she continued. “So with a heart that is certainly lighter, I wait.”

May 2018 — Reconstructive surgery 

Doherty had reconstructive surgery for a mastectomy she had more than two years earlier, around the time she announced her diagnosis. She told ET while at a Stand Up to Cancer event in Santa Monica, California, about having to gain weight for her procedure and the hardships she endured.

“I’m having a little bit of a hard time getting [the weight] off. It was for my particular surgery that I chose,” she explained. “I didn’t have any extra skin, so I had to gain weight to stretch the skin for my surgery. [The plastic surgeon] said seven pounds would be good, but then I’ve always kind of been an overachiever. And I’ve always really wanted to please the teacher, so I went 10. I was like, ‘OK, you need seven? I’ll give you 10. I’ll be that girl for you.’ It was definitely interesting walking around like that, and I’m slowly getting it off. But listen, in the long run, what’s a little extra weight compared to my health and having great reconstruction.”

September 2018 — Cancer made her a better actor

Doherty told ET that she was more appreciative of the blessings in her life, and had become a better actor because of it.

“It’s the best time in the world for me to be an actor because I’m so in touch with every single emotion,” Doherty said through tears.

When asked why she was so emotional, Doherty replied: “It’s maybe a little bit of fear, but it’s also this overwhelming feeling of gratefulness and just humility. And I think the humility really is what knocks you on your feet the most and brings forth those tears. It’s also the fear that anybody else is going to go through it.”

February 2020 — ‘Shannen Doherty is dying of stage 4 terminal cancer’

In court documents obtained by ET, the actress filed a motion in her lawsuit against State Farm Insurance, which begins, “Plaintiff Shannen Doherty is dying of stage 4 terminal cancer.”

In the docs, Doherty’s attorney claimed that the actress is unable to live out “her remaining years peacefully in her home” because State Farm has not agreed to cover the entire cost of repairs to her home following 2018’s Woolsey fire.

“I probably wouldn’t have revealed it quite at that moment, but an insurance company was going to, so I decided that I should take control of my own story,” Doherty later told ET.

Additionally in the court docs, State Farm claimed they paid Doherty over $1 million to clean and repair her home and personal property as well as for temporary housing and furniture rental. Doherty said she was entitled to additional benefits under her homeowner’s policy. 

Doherty had been living with the diagnosis privately for almost a year, but due to the court case with her insurance company, she chose to come forward with the news herself to control the narrative surrounding her cancer.

In an interview with ABC News, Doherty admitted to being “petrified” and “pretty scared” of the health battle ahead of her. In that same interview, Doherty recalled the heartbreaking moment she found out her cancer had returned. It started a year prior, sometime in 2019, when she said she began to feel aches in her body.

“I started feeling some very odd aches, so, I called my oncologist,” Doherty recalled, fighting back tears. “And he said, ‘All right, let’s just get you in.’ I think in the back of your head, you are always suspecting that this is going to happen. But I had definitely, in another way, convinced myself that I had beaten it. I was the true warrior. I was the true survivor.”

September 2020 — Doherty plans ‘to live another 10 or 15 years’

Doherty opened up to Elle about her health battle and how she was doing amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I haven’t sat down to write letters. That’s something I need to do,” she told the magazine of facing her own mortality. “There are things I need to say to my mom [Rosa]. I want my husband [Kurt Iswarienko] to know what he’s meant to me.”

Doherty added that she’s also considered making videos for her loved ones to watch after her death, but it’s a challenge. 

“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,” she 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.”

October 2020 — On what changed her mind to join ‘90210’ reboot

Amid her health challenges, Doherty continued with various projects in Hollywood, including the Lifetime movie List of a Lifetime, which earned her a Critics Choice Award nomination. Another one of those projects was also the Beverly Hills, 90210 reboot, in which she reprised her iconic role as Brenda Walsh.

In an ET exclusive, Doherty sat down with longtime friend Sarah Michelle Gellar at her California home and she shared her true feelings about reprising the role — and what made her change her mind.

“I know you were originally hesitant to do the reboot, and I know that there might’ve been someone sitting right here that really forced you to do it because they wanted to see you in it,” Gellar told Doherty.

“You’re right, I didn’t want to do it. I have my reasons for not wanting to do it,” Doherty confessed. “One of them is I’ve played the character so many times and I’ve done so many versions of 90210 that it felt like we had exhausted that avenue. I believe less is more sometimes. You want to leave people wanting to see a show, as opposed to being like, ‘Oh my god, I hope that never comes back on the air.’ So, I was just a little trepidatious.”

However, at the time of her having to make a decision, Luke Perry died and she got news that her breast cancer had returned as stage 4. Those two factors made a huge difference in her decision-making.

“Someone very important to me passed away and I got my diagnosis, and it was all sort of within a couple of months, and it just made me give pause and rethink it,” Doherty admitted. “And yes, it was a way to honor Luke — which was important to me — but it was also a way to honor my cancer family by saying, hey, yeah, yeah, yeah, like, nobody’s gonna know, but at least when it comes out that I have stage 4, I will have been able to say, ‘Yes, but I worked throughout it.'”

October 2021 — Doherty wins $6.3 million lawsuit against State Farm

Doherty was awarded $6,346,000 in damages from the insurance company, according to court docs obtained by ET

Doherty sued State Farm after the company refused to pay for repairs under the policy on her Malibu, California, home, which was damaged in the 2018 Woolsey fire. The $6.3 million awarded would cover the damage to Doherty’s home and property, as well as her attorney fees and emotional distress.

October 2021 — What cancer looks like

“For breast cancer awareness month, I’d like to share more of my own personal journey from my first diagnosis to my second,” Doherty captioned her post at the time, showing pictures of her bald head and a bloody nose. “Is it all pretty? NO but it’s truthful and my hope in sharing is that we all become more educated, more familiar with what cancer looks like. I hope I encourage people to get mammograms, to get regular checkups, to cut thru the fear and face whatever might be in front of you.”

She added, “I had many nose bleeds from the chemo. Not sure if any of you experienced this. I also was beyond tired. I cheered myself up by putting on [Cookie Monster] funny pajamas that my friend Kristy gave me. Did they actually cheer me up? Yes!! Lol. I looked ridiculous and in that ridiculousness, I was able to laugh at myself.”

“Finding humor helped get me thru what seemed impossible,” Doherty continued. “I hope we all find humor in the impossible.”

December 2021 — Her 2022 goals

Heading into the new year and ahead of the premiere of her and Bruce Willis’ new film, Fortress, Doherty sat down with ET to talk about returning to the big screen and her goals for the upcoming year.

“If I were dreaming of what would happen in 2022, I think a lot more research and progression as far as finding the cure for cancer is my ultimate, ultimate dream because even though I am thriving and I’m doing well, I still have cancer and you don’t want stage 4, but I have it and so I think in the back of my mind, this constant sort of ‘OK, what can I do to help bring more awareness? What can I do the help raise money? What can I do to sort of push research for not just myself but for everybody else who is suffering from cancer?'” Doherty shared at the time.

She continued, “Realistically, I hope that my health just continues to be stable and that I continue the relationships with my husband and my mom and my friends and and I hope their work continues to grow and it only gets better. … I just I hope that next year, work-wise continues. I hope I continue to get these opportunities and that I continue to work with people that I’ve always admired and wanted to work with.”

March 2023 — Calls out SAG-AFTRA healthcare rules

In an Instagram post, Doherty called upon SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher to make changes in the organization’s “current criteria” when it comes to healthcare rules. 

“@officialfrandrescher i’m curious for people like me who have worked since they were 10 and paid dues to @sagaftra how when we aren’t able to work for health reasons why our union abandons us. I think we can do better for all our members and I think you’re the person to do it,” she wrote at the time

“Health insurance shouldn’t be based on annual income. It’s a lifetime contribution. And for me and many others, we have paid a lifetime of dues to only be canceled because we don’t meet your current criteria. Not ok,” Doherty added. 

A spokesperson for SAG-AFTRA Health Plan would tell ET, “SAG-AFTRA Health Plan Trustees care deeply about our participants and their wellbeing. We’re happy to be able to offer an extension of coverage to eligible participants or their dependents when they are unable to work due to health issues.”

April 2023 — She files for divorce

Doherty filed for divorce from Kurt Iswarienko after 11 years of marriage.

Doherty’s rep, Leslie Sloane, confirmed the news in a statement to ET, sharing, “Divorce is the last thing Shannen wanted.”

“Unfortunately, she felt she was left with no other option,” the statement continued

The pair tied the knot in October 2011, and according to the divorce filing obtained by ET, the estranged couple first separated back in January.

June 2023 — The cancer spreads to her brain

In a heartbreaking post, Doherty shared that the stage 4 breast cancer had spread to her brain. In the post, Doherty talked about the fear she faced as she was placed under a machine for radiation treatment.

“January 12, 2023. On January 5th, my ct scan showed Mets in my brain. Yesterdays video was showing the process of getting fitted for the mask which you wear during radiation to your brain. January 12, the first round of radiation took place,” she wrote next to a video that showed her crying as she’s inside the machine. 

“My fear is obvious. I am extremely claustrophobic and there was a lot going on in my life. I am fortunate as I have great doctors like Dr Amin Mirahdi and the amazing techs at cedar sinai. But that fear…. The turmoil….. the timing of it all…. This is what cancer can look like.”

November 2023 — The cancer spreads to her bones

Speaking to People, Doherty said she contemplated life’s biggest questions after learning about the spread of her cancer, but she didn’t stop there. She also found her answer.

“When you ask yourself, ‘Why me? Why did I get cancer?’ and then ‘Why did my cancer come back? Why am I stage 4?,’ that leads you to look for the bigger purpose in life,” she shares. 

It’s Doherty’s hope that society at large doesn’t make assumptions about her life amid the health update.

“People just assume that it means you can’t walk, you can’t eat, you can’t work. They put you out to pasture at a very early age — ‘You’re done, you’re retired,’ and we’re not,” she explains. “We’re vibrant, and we have such a different outlook on life. We are people who want to work and embrace life and keep moving forward.”

On the heels of the health news, Doherty is launching a memoir-style podcast, Let’s Be Clear. The iHeartPodcasts show “promises to be a raw and candid exploration of Shannen’s personal journey covering everything from her TV and film credits to her stage four cancer battle, friendships, divorces and more. The podcast will also provide a platform for Shannen to share her life experience, the strength that carried her through difficult times, and her hopes and dreams for the future.”

Let’s Be Clear debuts on the iHeartPodcasts network on Dec. 7.


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