In honour of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, US actress Shannen Doherty opened up on social media about her own journey with the disease.
The Beverly Hills, 90210 star, 50, revealed last year that her cancer had returned after going into remission in 2017. On Thursday, she offered fans a true glimpse of her life, sharing “my own personal journey from my first diagnosis to my second”.
“Is it all pretty?” she wrote on Instagram. “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 check-ups, to cut thru the fear and face whatever might be in front of you.”
Alongside her words, Doherty posted photos of herself, one with a bloodied tissue up her nose and another of her wearing pyjamas and a sleep mask, which were covered in illustrations of Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster, which she said cheered her up.
“I looked ridiculous and in that ridiculousness, I was able to laugh at myself. Finding humour helped get me thru what seemed impossible. I hope we all find humour in the impossible.”
Celebrities who have shared their breast cancer journeys
Doherty is far from the only celebrity to have been brave enough to talk about their experience with the disease, which kills a woman every 13 minutes, according to the National Breast Cancer Coalition in the US. In 2020, 684,996 people died from the disease, according to the World Health Organisation. In the UAE, it is the most common cancer among women.
Here are some of the other celebrities who have opened up about their fight with breast cancer:
Elissa opened up about her battle with breast cancer at the Dubai Health Forum in 2019, telling the audience she had become vegan since her diagnosis.
The Lebanese pop star, who has overcome the disease for now, decided not to talk about her breast cancer diagnosis at first, saying, “I am a strong woman and initially I didn’t want people to know because I didn’t want them to look at me and say ‘what a pity, she is ill’.
"I didn’t even tell my own family members because I didn’t want the news to reach my mother. I didn’t want her to worry.”
But then, her sister found out she also had breast cancer. That was when the Maktooba Leek singer decided to open up.
“When she found out that I had breast cancer, she decided to take a mammogram herself and she discovered that she, too, was suffering from breast cancer. She thankfully got the treatment she needed and recovered. That’s when I realised the importance of raising awareness on breast cancer and early detection ... I believe that God wanted me to raise awareness on the disease.”
Elissa revealed her struggle with the disease in August 2018, with the release of the video for Ila Kol Elli Bihebbouni (To Those Who Love Me).
While, sadly, Girls Aloud singer Harding died in September from breast cancer, it was not before she bravely spoke out about her battle with the disease.
She revealed in August last year that she had been diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer, which had spread to other parts of her body.
"Nothing is certain any more," the singer told The Times in March. "I'm just grateful to wake up every day and live my best life, because now I know just how precious it is.”
The Times published an extract of Harding's memoir Hear Me Out, in which she makes the revelation.
Harding said she had delayed seeing a doctor because of the pandemic.
“At first I thought it was just a cyst. The trouble was the pain was getting worse. It got so bad that I couldn't sleep in a bed. Eventually my skin started to bruise. By now I was terrified,” she wrote.
“One day I woke up realising I'd been in denial. Yes there was a pandemic but it was almost as if I'd been using that as an excuse not to face up to the fact that something was very wrong.”
American pop-rock star Sheryl Crow was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer in 2006 through a routine mammogram. She was 44 at the time, and went on to have a lumpectomy in both breasts, and radiation therapy.
Now, 15 years on, she’s still a champion of raising awareness about the disease.
"Once you get diagnosed, you find that there’s a whole community of women who find each other – in Starbucks, in airports, in hotel lobbies, just everywhere – who will share their story,” Crow told Health last year.
"The statistic is one in eight women will be diagnosed in their lifetime," she said. "I was one of those women who had no family history and was super healthy, and I wound up being the one in eight.”
She also shared advice for women who put off getting checked: “It can be the difference in having a minimal treatment or having chemo or worse than that – the risk of it being fatal.”
The Anchorman star revealed earlier this year that she has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but she also had breast cancer in 2008. At the time, she’d had a double mastectomy, and went on to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed.
"My decision, after looking at all the treatment plans that were possibilities for me, the only one that seemed the most logical and the one that was going to work for me was to have a bilateral mastectomy," Applegate said on Good Morning America in 2009.
"Sometimes, you know, I cry. And sometimes I scream. And I get really angry. And I get really upset, you know, into wallowing in self pity sometimes. And I think that it's all part of the healing," she said.
Applegate even wrote it into the Netflix series Dead to Me, in which she plays protagonist Jen Harding, who in the fourth episode reveals she preemptively had a double mastectomy after her mother died of breast cancer.
Dame Olivia Newton-John, 73, perhaps most famous for her role in Grease, is one of the biggest breast cancer advocates after first being diagnosed with the disease in 1992.
“The diagnosis came the same weekend my father died of cancer, so you can imagine the shock,” she writes on the website for the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre.
“I learned very quickly how important it was for me to think positively,” she says.
She underwent a partial mastectomy, chemotherapy and breast reconstruction. Newton-John has been diagnosed with the disease twice more since then, most recently in 2017.
“Three times lucky, right?” she said to The Guardian last year. “I’m going to look at it like that. Listen, I think every day is a blessing. You never know when your time is over; we all have a finite amount of time on this planet, and we just need to be grateful for that.”
While less than one per cent of all breast cancer cases develop in men, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation in the US, it is not impossible. It happened to Kiss drummer Peter Criss, who revealed he was diagnosed with the disease in 2008. He discovered a lump while in the shower after leaving the gym, and went straight to his doctor. The lump was then removed and found to be cancerous, and Criss has been cancer-free since.
He now raises awareness of male breast cancer. “Every October I hit the streets with thousands of people and march to raise money for breast cancer research,” he wrote in his 2012 memoir Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss.
Pop star Kylie Minogue, who this week announced she’s moving back to Australia after 30 years in the UK, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 and underwent a lumpectomy and chemotherapy before being declared cancer-free the following year. She has since recounted her journey back to health numerous times in order to raise awareness.
"It's like the earth had kind of slipped off its axis. You see everything differently," Minogue, 53, told People last year.
"It's a huge change, and it is before and after," she told the US publication. "Now with what's happening in the world, there's a lot of people talking about a new normal, but I think after cancer or any other big, life-changing incident or illness, you have to adapt."
Take a look through the photo gallery above to see Kylie Minogue's style evolution.
Two-time Oscar winner Dame Maggie Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, at the age of 73. She underwent chemotherapy and had to “stagger through” filming the final Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in which she played Professor McGonagall.
“It leaves you so flattened. I’m frightened to work in the theatre now. I feel very uncertain,” she told The Times back then. “I think it’s the age when it happened. It knocks you sideways. It takes you longer to recover, you are not so resilient.”
She may have struggled, but Smith is more resilient than she thought, as she has gone on to star in at least a dozen films and take on the role of the Dowager Countess of Grantham in the popular TV series Downton Abbey.
It was through a second opinion that actress Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks’s wife, learnt she had breast cancer in 2015. “I had a gut feeling,” she has said.
She opted to have a double mastectomy followed by breast reconstruction surgery and has been open about her treatment.
“I sometimes miss my biological breasts. I liked them. I had them for a long time … They nursed my babies,” she wrote in a personal essay for Harper’s Bazaar. “But as the comedian (and breast cancer survivor) Tig Notaro says, referring to making fun of her flat chest for so many years, her breasts got fed up and ‘were trying to kill me’. You can’t really miss someone who wanted to take you out.”
In the piece, she also touts the benefits of mindfulness meditation, getting regular exercise and managing anxiety, although she also says stress and breast cancer are not directly linked, according to experts she has consulted.
Fans of Sex and the City may remember fictional character Samantha Jones dealing with breast cancer in the show, but perhaps some don’t know Cynthia Nixon, who played the role of Miranda Hobbes in the HBO series, had the disease in real life.
Nixon discovered she had stage one cancer after a routine mammogram, something she had been doing since age 35 as her mother had successfully beaten breast cancer when Nixon was a child.
“I’ve learned that if you catch breast cancer early, the chances are overwhelmingly good that you’ll be cured,” she told Shape magazine. “So my attitude, which very much mirrored my mother’s, was this wasn’t a big deal.”
She went on to have a lumpectomy and six weeks of radiation. She also became an advocate of mammograms.
"I want them [women] most to hear me saying that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” she told Nightline ahead of becoming a spokeswoman for the Susan G Komen for the Cure foundation.
“So the only thing to really be afraid of is if you don't go get your mammograms, because there's some part of you that doesn't want to know, and that's the thing that's going to trip you up. That's the thing that could have a really bad endgame.”
American Today anchor Hoda Kotb, whose parents are Egyptian, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 after a routine examination by her gynaecologist. She was 43 at the time and hosted a show called Your Total Health, and yet she’d never had a mammogram.
“I just didn’t do it,” she said. “I wasn’t scared of it. I ask people all the time why they haven’t gotten checked for various things, and here I was not getting screened.”
She went on to have a mastectomy, and was given the all-clear. Now she’s a vocal advocate and works to raise awareness of the disease by sharing her story of survival.
Another man to face the disease is Mathew Knowles, father and former manager of Beyonce and Solange. He first became concerned after seeing drops of blood on his shirt. In 2019, he revealed he’d been diagnosed with breast cancer and had had a mastectomy the same month.
While he said his recovery was “fairly easy”, in interviews with ABC’s Good Morning America and The New York Times, he also discovered he had the BRCA2 gene mutation, which increases certain cancer risks.
He suggested that “chest cancer” may be a better term to use, rather than “breast cancer” for men. “Make it easy,” he said. “That’s the barrier for men. They just can’t get past that word.”