Shannen Doherty has undoubtedly made her mark on TV history – especially for her breakout roles in Beverly Hills, 90210 and Charmed. But in 2015 the actor hit the headlines for much more personal reasons: doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer. Doherty bravely fought the disease, though, and just two years later revealed that she was in remission. And that appeared to be the end of the story… until, in early 2020, the star offered fans a heartbreaking update about her health.
Yet, after winning that 2015 cancer battle, the star appeared to be in a very positive mindset. “It opened me up, it taught me about myself,” she told Health.com in 2019. “And it changed me as a human being forever.” Doherty also seemed to handle her diagnosis with aplomb, even using the hashtag “cancerslayer” in social-media updates about her health.
That very public cancer journey had started with a trip to the doctor’s – after Doherty had discovered a lump in her breast. At the time, she underwent a biopsy and a scan before being faced with an anxious wait. “When I got the results, I was in the car with my mom,” Doherty recalled to Health.com. “Then I started crying.”
Doherty continued, “And from there, I just put together a team.” The star’s physicians also started her on a course of treatment, including anti-estrogen therapy – because estrogen can encourage tumor growth. But the therapy comes with its issues.
“The hormones I went on threw my body into menopause instantly,” Doherty revealed. “My metabolism came to a screeching halt, and I put on a ton of weight.” And that was just the beginning. Next, you see, came the surgical part of her treatment – and that didn’t quite go to plan, either.
That’s because both Doherty and her team hoped that simply removing the tumor would go a long way to helping her recovery. But the subsequent discovery of many growths meant that a far more serious course of action was necessary. Yes, the star consequently faced the removal of her breast in a mastectomy procedure.
And so in May 2016 Doherty had a single-breast mastectomy. From there, the actor endured both chemo and radiation treatment. That meant that her hair fell out, too. “I remember I got in the shower to wash my hair, and it just started coming out in clumps,” Doherty explained to Health.com. “It was like, ‘Oh my God, this is real.’” The star then made a drastic choice.
“Right away, I made the decision to shave my head,” Doherty explained. “My friend came over, and she shaved it. We laughed, and we cried. She shaved it in stages, so it was like a pageboy, then punk rock, shaved on the sides. It was a fun experience, considering that I was devastated.” Then, with her treatment going well, the star faced another milestone the following year.
As a result of Doherty’s mastectomy, you see, the actor needed surgery to reconstruct her missing breast. Instead of a silicone implant, though, Doherty chose a different approach. She opted to use her tissue in the rebuilding of her body. “You have to replace implants, and I want to go under the knife as little as humanly possible,” the star said. The procedure wasn’t without its drawbacks, however.
In fact, the complicated reconstruction surgery left Doherty feeling like “Frankenstein,” she recalled. “For me, the hardest part is the scars,” the star revealed. “Every time I get out of the shower, I look, and it’s like, ‘Oh my God.’” But it at least seemed as though all the pain had been worth it.
Yes, with the help of Doherty’s extended support system – including her husband, her mom and her social-media family – the star was getting better all the time. And the decision to take her Insta followers on her cancer journey seemed like a positive one, too. “It was just about being as honest as possible,” Doherty stated. “And then it became very important to me that I was there for people who were going through it.”
It appears that there was another positive result from Doherty’s decision to go public as well. “I get a little less trolls and haters on social media now, so that’s good,” she revealed. And the star has a theory as to why that might be: “I think because cancer stripped me of my defense mechanisms, it allowed people to see all sides of me.”
As previously mentioned, Doherty announced that she was in remission not long after the reconstruction surgery. So the star had seemingly beaten cancer. And as she said in 2019, the experience had changed her perception of life and herself. It also had a profound effect on the star’s relationship with her own body – in sickness and in health.
While Doherty was ill, you see, the toll on her body had been huge. “Chemo… put on weight for me,” the actor revealed. “Plus, the chemo and radiation drain collagen right out of your skin, so you age really quickly.” Cancer also had one other lasting effect on the star – ending the chances of something she’s wished for her entire life.
“I’ve always wanted a kid,” Doherty admitted. “[But] it’s not possible [for me to get pregnant] because I can’t get out of menopause. That would require estrogen, and I’m choosing not to take hormone pills. I can’t risk those levels coming up.” That’s because this could lead to the cancer returning. The star hasn’t let this change her positive mindset, though.
“Maybe I’m supposed to mother in a different way,” the star added. And that optimistic attitude extends to Doherty’s general health as well. “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… and doing strength training and boxing… almost every day.”
And even during her cancer battle, Doherty continued to work – as she has done since she was a child. At just 11 years of age, in fact, the actor made her small-screen debut in western drama Father Murphy. She then appeared in the short-lived sci-fi show Voyagers!. From there, Doherty was cast in U.S. TV classic Little House on the Prairie.
In 1982 Doherty voiced a character in the fantasy animation The Secret of NIMH. In the process, the budding star worked alongside the likes of Derek Jacobi, Dom DeLuise and a pre-Star Trek: The Next Generation Wil Wheaton. Critics loved the movie – and there’s even talk of the team behind Avengers: Infinity War remaking it.
Doherty also appeared in the classic 1980s shows Airwolf and Magnum, P.I. But her big break came in 1988 with a lead role in the blackest of comedies, Heathers, alongside Winona Ryder. It’s now considered one of the decade’s best movies, and Doherty’s performance put the young star on the radar of one Aaron Spelling.
At the time, Spelling was looking for actors to cast in his new show, Beverly Hills, 90210. So Doherty nabbed the lead female role, Brenda. She would be playing opposite Jason Priestley as her twin brother, Brandon, as well as Jennie Garth, Luke Perry and Brian Austin Green. The resulting hit show aired both at home and internationally from 1990, propelling Doherty to stardom.
Doherty spent four years on Beverly Hills, 90210 in all. During that time, her character went to France, almost got married in Vegas, was arrested, and even moved to London. Brenda became the star’s most iconic role, too – a part that she would reprise more than once. Yet a year after leaving Beverly Hills, 90210, the actor appeared in yet another classic movie.
Yes, starring as Rene in the Kevin Smith rom-com Mallrats in 1995 alongside Ben Affleck and Jason Lee introduced Doherty to a whole new audience. And while the mall-centric movie bombed at the box office, it quickly became a cult staple on DVD. And by that time, Doherty was back making waves on the small screen.
If Brenda is Doherty’s most iconic role, you see, her character in another Spelling-produced hit show comes a close second. In fact, portraying Prue Halliwell – the mightiest of the three witchy sisters in Charmed – earned the star critical acclaim and awards throughout her four-year involvement. The series itself has since achieved cult status, too, and remains one of the top shows to binge on various streaming services.
In 2008 Doherty went back to Beverly Hills for a guest appearance on 90210 – a spin-off from the original series. She, of course, played Brenda, now a well-to-do actress and back in town to direct the school musical. The actor also took part in the 2010 season of Dancing with the Stars. Unfortunately, though, she was the first celebrity to leave.
Back on familiar ground in 2016, though, Doherty appeared in a reboot of Heathers. In the new version, reimagined for TV, she played the parent of one of the eponymous clique’s new members. The show, however, suffered setbacks due to its macabre content and was canceled after just one season.
Then, in 2019, Doherty once again went back to Beverly Hills in another spin-off: BH90210. In a meta-twist, though, this show focused on the “real-life” actors behind the characters, following them as they launch a fictional reboot of the original series. Almost all the original cast returned for the season, except for Luke Perry. The actor, who’d played Dylan McKay in the show, died unexpectedly before shooting started.
During filming for BH90210, however, it seems that Doherty was hiding a secret about her health. Yet, looking at the show, you’d never guess that anything was amiss. In February 2020, though, the star gave a revealing interview explaining her health status. Appearing on ABC News, the star said, “I have stage four… My cancer came back, and that’s why I’m here.
Doherty’s stage four breast cancer diagnosis is as life-threatening as the disease gets. It normally means tumors have spread around the body, most often to the brain, liver and lungs. In the star’s case, these malignant growths had appeared in her bones. There’s currently no cure for this advanced level of the condition – but that doesn’t mean there’s no hope.
Treatment options for stage four cancer include immunotherapy and hormone therapy. And while the condition can be fatal, patients are nonetheless living for longer than at any point previously. Not only that, but sufferers can also work – which is something Doherty had been determined to prove.
As it turned out, you see, the star had already been living with the diagnosis for a year. “I thought, when [the diagnosis] finally came out, I will have worked,” Doherty stated to ABC. “People can look at that and say, ‘Oh my God, yeah, she can work, and other people with stage four can work, too. We still have some living to do.’” During the interview, Doherty also revealed that she’d often thought about this very outcome.
“In the back of [my] head, [I was] always suspecting that this is gonna happen,” Doherty admitted. “But I had definitely… in another way, convinced myself that I had beaten it.” So the diagnosis was, she added, “a bitter pill to swallow.”
Of course, Doherty was already aware of her condition when Luke Perry died in 2019 following a severe stroke. And during her interview, the star described her reaction to his passing. “[I thought], ‘Why wasn’t it me?’” she admitted. “It was so weird for me to be diagnosed and then somebody who was seemingly healthy to go first. It was really shocking.”
The interviewer then asked Doherty how she made it through the BH90210 shoot. And the star had a very simple initial reply: “Brian Austin Green.” It seems her co-star, one of the few people aware of her diagnosis, made things that little bit easier. “I had moments of great anxiety where I thought, ‘I can’t really do this,’” Doherty added. “Brian was my buddy, like, ‘We got this, kiddo.’”
Yet while Doherty’s 2015 battle with cancer had seemed to leave her full of positivity, things were different on this occasion. “I think the first time around, I found some really beautiful positive ways to look at it. I was the true warrior… I was the cancer slayer,” the star explained. “This is the much more difficult one to deal with.”
“I am grappling. I haven’t found my path and my peace. I wanna be… like, ‘Hey, I’m so positive and so peaceful,’” Doherty continued. “But I also think what an incredible disservice to everybody else going through this if I put forth something completely false.”
Doherty then told the show about the treatment for her condition: “Basically a chemo pill that you take 21 days on and seven days off, a hormonal blocker and then a shot once a month to prevent fractures… [That’s] the biggest thing with cancer in the bones. It just starts breaking down your bone.”
It seems, however, that Doherty’s public discussion of her condition was prompted by something altogether unrelated to cancer. While involved in a court case with an insurance company, in fact, she discovered that her health status was about to be made public anyway. And as she told ABC News, “I’d rather people hear it from me.”
“I don’t want [the reveal] to be a court document,” Doherty continued. “I want it to be real and authentic. I want to control the narrative… I’m pretty scared.” Given her diagnosis, that’s entirely understandable. And during the heartbreaking interview, the actor described the strength being shown by those closest to her.
“I have the most amazing support system,” Doherty said. “My mum is a ridiculously strong, courageous human being. So’s my husband, but I worry about him.” At that point, the star couldn’t control her tears; the thought of leaving her loved ones was too much. Despite all that, though, Doherty still has one ambition.
“The thing I want to do the most right now is, I want to make an impact and want to be remembered for something bigger than just me,” Doherty said. And having shown the world her incredible strength, whether this is a fight she wins or loses, many people will no doubt feel that she’s already part of something bigger.
Doherty is not the only celebrity battling cancer in the public eye, of course. Another huge star suffering through his tragic condition is Alex Trebek. And in November 2019 Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek witnessed an internet-breaking moment on the show that he has hosted for 35 years. Instead of answering the question put to him, you see, one contestant instead wrote a message for Trebek on his board. And upon seeing it, Trebek was almost brought to tears. Yet it wasn’t just the contestant who believed in the note he had written – all the show’s viewers stood behind it too.
To grasp the full power of the contestant’s message, however, you need first to understand Trebek’s history. As mentioned, Trebek has been hosting Jeopardy! ever since 1984, when he took over presenting duties from his friend Art Fleming. The game show’s rules are simple: contestants compete to solve problems, and their answers must be in the form of questions. Yet Jeopardy! has proved to be so popular that it’s won no less than 33 Daytime Emmys.
Trebek, however, made a saddening announcement in March 2019. In a video message to the public, the host announced that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer of the pancreas – a very serious affliction indeed. And though Trebek admitted that “the prognosis for this is not very encouraging,” he said he planned to battle the disease as hard as he possibly could.
Trek said in his video, “I’m going to keep working, and with the love and support of my family and friends, and with the help of your prayers also, I plan to beat the low survival-rate statistics for this disease. Truth told, I have to, because under the terms of my contract, I have to host Jeopardy! for three more years.”
So the game show icon clearly seemed to be in a good frame of mind, despite the terrible blow. And people immediately came out in support of Trebek. For instance, his friend and fellow game show host Pat Sajak wrote on Twitter, “There is no one I know who is stronger and more determined, and I would never bet against him. We, and the entire country, are pulling for you, Alex.”
Other people phrased their support for Trebek in the form of a Jeopardy! answer. Ana Navarro-Cárdenas of CNN and The View wrote on social media, “Who is an extraordinary human being, gracious, a consummate professional, a gentleman, a kind soul? Final Answer: #AlexTrebek.”
Then in April 2019, after completing season 35 of the show, Trebek updated his fans and supporters on how he was doing. He said in a new video, “Despite what you may have heard, I’m feeling good, I’m continuing with my therapy, and we – by we, the staff, is already working on our next season: the 36th year of Jeopardy!”
Trebek went on, “So here, on the last day of taping for our 35th anniversary season, I wanted once again to thank you for your continuing messages of encouragement and support, particularly the many cards I’ve received from young people. I’m touched beyond words.” But the star’s battle was really only just beginning.
The following month, you see, Trebek spoke about his prognosis on Good Morning America. He told host Robin Roberts, herself a survivor of cancer, “People all over America have been sharing their good thoughts, their advice, their prayers, and I feel it is making a difference in my well-being.”
Trebek spoke candidly about his battle, telling Roberts, “My oncologist tells me I’m doing well, even though I don’t always feel it. I’ve had kidney stones. I’ve had ruptured discs. So I’m used to dealing with pain, but what I’m not used to dealing with is these surges that come on suddenly of deep, deep sadness, and it brings tears to my eyes.”
Trebek went on, “I’ve discovered in this whole episode, ladies and gentlemen, that I’m a bit of a wuss. But I’m fighting through it.” Yet he remained optimistic, saying, “My platelets, my blood counts are steady, my weight is steady… The cancer indicators, those are coming down. So I’ve got another chemo next week, and then we’ll do a review to find out where things stand.”
Regarding his chemotherapy, Trebek said, “I go in and I sit down; I joke with the nurses. And I’m there for an hour-and-a-half while they inject all of this stuff into me and then I go home and I have a good day, and then the next day, for no reason that I can fathom, it turns south on me. But that’s okay. You have to deal with it. What am I going to do?”
Trebek also mentioned in the Roberts interview that he was very grateful to be “considered an inspiration to other people.” He said, “I’ve had so many contacts from people who have survived cancer for ten years, 12 years, 14 years. I am now a 30-day survivor… I’m going to catch up to those other people.”
Trebek went on, “They have been an inspiration to me, and that’s really what it’s all about. It’s drawing attention to this particular type of devastating cancer, making people aware of it, telling them that they should take certain precautions beforehand to find out because we never discover pancreatic cancer until it’s too late, unfortunately.”
Sadly, you see, pancreatic cancer is a terrible condition, and sufferers generally have a low chance of survival. In fact, the statistics reveal that a quarter of people will likely live for only one year after diagnosis. The faster the cancer is diagnosed, though, the better prospects a person has. But even then the five-year survival rate is only 20 percent, and overall, sufferers’ chances of still being alive 60 months after diagnosis stand at about 8 percent.
So, in May, Trebek shared more details of his treatment during an article on CBS Sunday Morning. There, he said that at one point while filming Jeopardy! he was “on the floor writhing in pain” because of stomach cramps. He explained, “It happened three or four times a day while we were taping. So that was a little – little rough on me.”
And the stomach problem actually turned out to be a tumor “the size of a small fist.” But no matter what, Trebek refused to stop working on the show. He said, “The producers were very kind. They said, ‘Look, if you don’t want to do the show, we’ll just cancel taping.’ I said, ‘No. We’re here. We’re doing the shows.’”
Trebek lost his hair thanks to the chemotherapy, too. He told CBS Sunday Morning, “On air I’m told that there were times when the hairpiece looked better than my real hair. So we’ll see how people react to that.” He added, “We have the summer months off. So hopefully my own hair will grow back, because I like my own hair.”
Before too long, then, the treatment appeared to be working. At the end of May 2019, for instance, Trebek told People in delight, “It’s kind of mind-boggling. The doctors said they hadn’t seen this kind of positive result in their memory… Some of the tumors have already shrunk by more than 50 percent.”
Trebek thanked the people who had sent him well wishes, saying, “I’ve got a couple million people out there who have expressed their good thoughts, their positive energy directed towards me and their prayers. I told the doctors, this has to be more than just the chemo, and they agreed it could very well be an important part of this.”
Yet this optimism was perhaps short-lived. Because it soon became clear that the treatment hadn’t worked as well as it had maybe first seemed. In October 2019, in an interview with Canadian TV network CTV, Trebek said he “went all the way down to numbers that correspond with a normal human being without cancer. Then all of a sudden, it blew up and went 50 per cent higher than when it was first diagnosed. Go figure.”
In the interview, the 79-year-old Trebek revealed, “I’m not afraid of dying. I’ve lived a good life, a full life, and I’m nearing the end of that life… if it happens, why should I be afraid of that? One thing they’re not going to say at my funeral, as a part of a eulogy, is, ‘He was taken from us too soon.’”
Trebek’s attitude to his condition has understandably impressed many people. And on a November 2019 episode of Jeopardy!, one contestant revealed his feelings for the host in an unmissable way. Yes, Dhruv Gaur – from Gainesville, Florida – decided to use up the money he’d banked on the show in order to send a message to Trebek.
The question posed to Gaur was, “In the title of a groundbreaking exposé of poverty in New York City slums, these three words follow ‘How the?’” The correct answer would have been, “What is, ‘Other Half Lives?’” But instead of writing that, or indeed any answer, Gaur wrote, “What is, ‘We love you, Alex.’”
Trebek asked Gaur, “Did you come up with the right one? No?” and then suddenly saw what he had actually written. “That’s very kind, thank you,” he told the young man. “Cost you $1,995. You’re left with five bucks.” But while Trebek was saying that, he appeared to be trying not to outright cry.
In fact, all the contestants on that episode of the show had been wearing purple ribbons in order to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer. Gaur was even wearing one while he showed Trebek his message. All the contestants in 2019’s Tournament of Champions will also be donating money to pancreatic cancer charity the Lustgarten Foundation.
And after his message went viral, Gaur took to Twitter to discuss it. He said, “I’m really glad I got the opportunity to say to Alex what everybody at the tournament was thinking. For context, Alex had just shared with us that he was re-entering treatment for pancreatic cancer. We were all hurting for him so badly.”
Gaur went on, “When Final Jeopardy came up, I could’ve tried to puzzle it together, but really, just kept thinking about Alex, and thought he should know. I’m just very grateful I got the opportunity to say what I know everyone was thinking. Sending all the love.” He tagged his post with #weloveyoualex.
The #weloveyoualex tag quickly took off on social media, too. One person described the video of Gaur’s message, saying, “The instant welling up of tears and emotion no viewer expected to have tonight.” A reply to that post read, “I was in the audience for this moment. Felt it then and feel it now.”
Gaur also shared something else on Twitter. He wrote, “With all the attention coming my way, I want to also re-up this play-along for pancreatic cancer on Thursday and Friday. Many of us are donating $1 for every question we get right when playing along at home to the Lustgarten Foundation for pancreatic cancer research. Join along!”
Later on that month, too, Gaur appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show to talk about his viral moment. The episode of Jeopardy! had actually been recorded in September, he explained, and Trebek had just been told that he would have to undergo more chemotherapy to hold back the cancer.
Gaur said, “[Trebek] had come back to the green room and talked to all the contestants who were on the tournament, and we could really tell that it was tough for him. So when I got up there, obviously I wasn’t going to win the game or anything, so I was like, ‘I could try to figure out the right answer, or I could do something for this person who might need it right now.’”
DeGeneres brought up that Gaur had actually been on Jeopardy! before and had won a lot of money. The host asked him what he did with it, and he answered, “I go to Brown [University], which costs a lot of money, so I spent a good amount of it on tuition, and another thing I decided to do is I took like 20 friends out to eat and paid for all their meals.”
DeGeneres asked, “What has the response been like since you’ve been on the show?” Gaur told her, “I was at the launch party for this episode with my friends, and my mom texted me, and she was like, ‘You’re trending on Twitter.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, Mom, eight tweets isn’t trending.’” But as soon as he checked, he was amazed.
Gaur said, “Since then, like, it’s been really crazy. Like, I’m here. Also like Ryan Reynolds, Chrissy Teigen, like all tweeted this moment. And there’s just been like a lot of energy around this.” But there was more to come – as DeGeneres had some special gifts for Gaur hiding behind the scenes.
DeGeneres told Gaur, “I don’t know how you’re going to be watching along at home, because you don’t own a television. So I’m going to give you one so you can watch at home.” She then brought out a massive 75-inch TV for him – and also a $25,000 donation to the Lustgarten Foundation for pancreatic cancer research.
And after that exciting experience, Gaur spoke to The Brown Daily Herald student newspaper about everything that had gone on since his Jeopardy! appearance and kind message. He said, “I definitely did not expect everyone to pick up on it on social media. The world really values that, which I didn’t expect.”
But the young man said he planned to simply resume his studies after his brush with fame. The whole thing had been “completely surreal,” he told The Brown Daily Herald. He added, “I still think I haven’t entirely processed that I flew to L.A., went on the show, talked to Ellen… and that I just came back home and went to class the next day.”
Gaur concluded, “Looking back, it’s been a really cool, extremely unique journey. I learned a lot about what it’s like to have a lot of attention on you for something you did… Over this past couple weeks, [I’ve] just been really grateful for the number of people who have kind of showed up to support me.”
And true to his word, Trebek is still hosting Jeopardy! despite the cancer. Talking to newspaper USA Today at the end of November 2019, he said, “[Gaur’s message] surprised me on the show, obviously. I was thrown for a loop there. I started to tear up, but that’s okay; I tear up over a lot of things.” Hopefully, then, Trebek will have more moments like that in the future.