The 'Beverly Hills, 90210' star opens up in PEOPLE's latest cover story about her Stage 4 cancer diagnosis and the aftermath of her brain surgery in January
Shannen Doherty is opening up about the most difficult moments in her years-long cancer journey.
After revealing she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in February 2020, the Beverly Hills 90210 and Charmed actress, 52, tells PEOPLE in its latest cover story that she struggled deeply after undergoing radiation to remove a brain tumor earlier this year.
In June, Doherty shared emotional footage with fans of herself wearing a flexible mask and undergoing a CT scan at Cedars-Sinai hospital in January, when her operation had taken place.
“He had to get removed and dissected to see his pathology,” she says now of "Bob," which she named the tumor. "It was definitely one of the scariest things I’ve ever been through in my entire life.”
After the surgery, Doherty says, she had trouble with her right hand and was unable to hold a glass or fork for three or four months.
“They put you on so many steroids. It’s to take down any brain swelling. I have a horrible reaction with steroids, so I tried to cut it down, and then the brain would swell a little bit more, and the hand would stop working completely,” she says. "We persevere through all sorts of crazy stuff, right?"
But Doherty worked intensely to regain her motor skills.
"The first time a glass slipped right through my hand, I was like, 'No, no, no, no, no. This is not happening. I am going to work on this.' And so, I did," she adds. “You think, ‘Could they have gotten more of that particular tumor?’ But it takes perseverance, a lot of dedication and faith to get through certain things. I’m not a quitter.”
Doherty was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015: After undergoing a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment, she announced in 2017 that her cancer had gone into remission.
Three years later, she revealed that the disease had returned and spread, and that doctors had diagnosed her with Stage 4 cancer.
The star credits her tenacity to her mom Rosa, a Southern-born redhead who ran a beauty salon and was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm when Doherty was 8. At the time, she was given a 10% chance of survival.
When Rosa woke up one morning, her eyebrow was paralyzed — and she also worked tirelessly until she was able to eventually move it.
“I come from a woman who was determined. She impressed that upon me as a very young child like, 'You don't give up. You just have to work hard at it,'" says Doherty.
She and her older brother Sean grew up in Los Angeles with their father Thomas, a financial advisor, who died in November 2010 at age 66, nearly a year after suffering a stroke on Christmas Day.
“I think I was always a fighter,” Doherty recalls of her childhood. “I was raised that way to be very strong and that I could do anything that I put my mind to.”
With a positive outlook, Doherty remains hopeful about her treatment.
"The thing that I like to tell anybody — including myself — is that it's about pushing through the next two, three, four and five years, because in that period of time, there's going to be another new protocol, a new clinical trial," she adds. "There's always something. So it's just trying to get to that point."
As she faces ups and downs, she's leaning on her support system.
"I don't think that there's a decision that I make that I don't take [my mom] into consideration. I love her, and I am so incredibly grateful to her for being an amazing mother," she says. "I take my brother into consideration and his children, my dog, my animals."
With a full life, Doherty isn't afraid of death. "I know where I'm going. I know the people that I'm going to see. I think I would be afraid of death if I wasn't a good person, but I am," she says. "I don't want to die. That's the difference. I'm not afraid of dying. I just don't want to die, like ever."
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