Why Shannen Doherty Says She’ll Be ‘The Longest Living Person' With Terminal Cancer Diagnosis

Photo: Kathy Hutchins & photolinc / Shutterstock
Shannen Doherty

At age 50, actress Shannen Doherty has thrown away expectations, saying she doesn’t believe in pre-conceived notions.

When someone recently asked her if she has a bucket list, it wasn’t a rude question, but a real one. Doherty doesn’t mind getting real about living with stage 4 breast cancer, and her answer is testament to just how real it gets.

“I have no bucket list. I think for me, I just think a bucket list is odd in my particular situation because it means that I’m sort of trying to check things off before my time runs out.”

“I’m going to be the longest living person with cancer,” Doherty said during a Zoom interview from her home on a sunny fall afternoon. “I don’t make any lists except thinking the words... just be happy.”

“I’m just trying to live my best life and to be the best example of me in this moment,” she said.

This moment is a big one for Shannen Doherty, whose movie career is now heating up again.

The actress has been working hard while dealing with cancer.

First up, she's joined by actress Kelly Hu in the new Lifetime movie, “List of a Lifetime,” about a woman named Brenda (Hu) who has been diagnosed with cancer and finds the daughter she gave up years ago for adoption.

Brenda's daughter Talia (Sylvia Kwan) asks her birth mother to create a bucket list. Enter Doherty as Diana, the girl’s adoptive mother.

Doherty says she didn't need to help Hu act the part of a cancer patient.

“I didn’t have to give anybody advice. These beautiful ladies did an amazing job with their prep. They knew their characters and did cancer proud."

“I just showed up and was part of the world,” she added. “And I was blown away by these ladies.”

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Doherty is also starring in another Lifetime movie, “Dying to Belong,” a remake of the 1997 made-for-TV movie starring Hilary Swank, Sarah Chalke, Jenna von Oÿ and Mark-Paul Gosselaar.

This time around, the story revolves around a shy college freshman with anxiety named Riley (Jenika Rose) who becomes friends with a journalism major (Favour Onwuka).

Riley’s mom Katherine (Doherty) is an alumna of the Pi Gamma Beta sorority house and encourage her daughter to join as a legacy. Riley does, but only in order to write about their hazing practices. When she does, she uncovers deeply buried secrets — with tragic results.

Ask Doherty about working with younger actresses and she laughs.

“I’m going to be brutally honest with you,” she said. “You never know what you’re getting with people in this industry. What I encountered here was two hard-working girls who were constantly putting their best foot forward. They were also kind, intelligent, talented girls.”

Doherty has also been hard at work filming not just one action flick, but at least the first two movies of an entire trilogy in which she stars opposite Bruce Willis, Chad Michael Murray and Jesse Metcalfe.

“The Fortress,” is currently set to be released in US theaters on December 17, 2021, and was shot back-to-back with the sequel, "The Fortress 2."

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Shannen Doherty was first diagnosed with breast cancer in March of 2015.

Last February, she revealed that her cancer had returned and spread in 2019. She is now in treatment for stage 4 breast cancer.

Doherty, whose first major film role was in 1989’s cult-classic dark comedy “Heathers,” began her career as a child actress working on iconic TV shows including “Father Murphy” and “Little House on the Prairie.”

She became a household name when she took the role of Brenda Walsh on Aaron Spelling's mega-hit prime time series “Beverly Hills, 90210.” after which Spelling cast her in a lead role again as Prue Halliwell on “Charmed.”

Even with an impressively long list of credits under her belt, Doherty says she has no plans to ever slow down.

“I won’t give it up,” she said of acting. “My career has been colorful. Someone said that to me and I take that as a big compliment. I would hate to think that I was beige. Knowing my career has been colorful, I like to think that I will continue to choose projects that are different and challenge me as an actor.”

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Doherty went through some tough times during and after her “90210” days, with the press labeling her difficult. People Magazine went so far as to dub her an "iconic Hollywood 'bad girl' of the nineties."

“There were times it got a little rough,” Doherty admits now. “As far as the press goes, you can feel defeated, but that stuff hasn’t been for 30 years."

Those days are in the past.

“There are all these new chapters now and I’m super excited about them,” she said. “I want to keep charging forward.”

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Cancer isn’t a topic Shannen Doherty and her husband discuss at home.

“We don’t talk about it,” she said with a smile. “My husband says, ‘You would never know that she has cancer.’"

“I don’t complain about that part of my life,” she said “There is so much living to do.”

Doherty and photographer husband Kurt Iswarienko, 45, just celebrated ten years of marriage.

The actress is quite private about her personal life overall these days.

“I feel like I have a responsibility to separate my public life from my acting life. I do talk about what I can and educate people,” she said. “Most of all, I want to say that people with stage 4 cancer are very much alive, active and capable of working."

“I want to raise money and spread awareness,” she said of how she plans to give back to cancer causes.

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C.L. Gaber is a nationally syndicated writer for the New York Times Syndicate and the Chicago Sun-Times whose work has appeared in Entertainment Weekly, Premiere, People, Ladies Home Journal, McCalls, Seventeen, Movieline and Cinescape.