Doherty shows fight with cancer

LOS ANGELES • One picture shows American actress Shannen Doherty completely bald, a bloody cotton ball in her nose as she stares straight at the camera, looking almost confrontational.

Another is more playful - in it, Doherty is in bed wearing Cookie Monster pyjamas and a matching eye mask.

In the caption, she confesses to how exhausted she is, how the chemotherapy she has had to undergo for stage-four breast cancer has left her plagued by bloody noses.

"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," Doherty wrote on Instagram last Thursday.

The images are unsettling to any member of Generation X who remembers her as Brenda Walsh, the feisty, polarising teenager she played for four years on the hit show Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990 to 2000), which brought her international fame and infamy.

Doherty, 50, said she was posting the images as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the hopes that they will jar people into getting mammograms and regular breast exams and help people cut through "the fear and face whatever might be in front of you".

The unvarnished photos align with the frank nature of an actress who never seemed interested in being universally liked and are likely to resonate with a public that is reconsidering how female celebrities were treated in the 1990s and early 2000s, said Dr Kearston Wesner, an associate professor of media studies at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut who teaches celebrity culture.

"The photos aren't touched up," she said. "They're not presented in any way than the reality she's going through. There is some feeling that when she is communicating with you, she is coming from an authentic place."

Doherty said she learnt she had breast cancer in 2015. Since then, she has had a mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy treatment.

The photos, which have been viewed about 290,000 times, have elicited comments of sympathy, admiration and praise on her Instagram account, which has more than 1.9 million followers.

"Love you Shan," wrote actor Ian Ziering, one of her former co-stars on Beverly Hills, 90210.

"You are a force, Sister," wrote actress Kelly Hu.

Doherty left Beverly Hills, 90210 in 1994, then went on to appear in the movie Mallrats (1995) and several television movies and shows such as Charmed (1998 to 2006). In 2019, she appeared in a brief reboot of the original 90210 called BH90210.

In an interview with The New York Times in 2008, Doherty said that the bad publicity around her was often based on exaggerations or false stories.

"I really could care less about it anymore," she said in the interview. "I have nothing to apologise for. Whatever I did was my growing-up process that I needed to go through, that anybody my age goes through. And however other people may have reacted to that is their issue."

Her decision to document the effects of cancer is "a great step towards redemption and meaningfulness" that could help people, said Mr Stephen Galloway, dean of the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University in Orange, California. He also said he learnt about a week ago that he was also in the early stages of cancer.

Doherty's openness had made him feel more comfortable talking about his own diagnosis. "I looked at her and I thought, 'what courage'," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2021, with the headline 'Doherty shows fight with cancer'. Subscribe