Shannen Doherty talks fighting cancer, SAG-AFTRA's 'broken' healthcare system

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Shannen Doherty has been fighting metastatic stage 4 cancer since 2019.

She went public with her diagnosis in February 2020 and has continued to work on various TV and movies sets amid her treatment schedule. 

In addition to directing Lifetime’s annual Stop Breast Cancer for Life campaign, Doherty has two Lifetime movies airing, “Dying to Belong” and “List of a Lifetime,” this weekend. 

The 50-year-old star spoke to Variety about why it has been so important to her to keep acting and how difficult it’s been to keep her SAG-AFTRA health insurance.

“You have to break through to other people, and get them to understand that you are hirable. Stage 4 cancer, it doesn’t mean the end of your life,” Doherty said. “It doesn’t mean that you’re not viable in the workplace. It’s quite the opposite.”

The “Charmed” alum emphasized how much “harder” having cancer makes her work because “we have so much more to prove.”

Shannen Doherty opened up about why it has been so important to her to keep acting and how difficult it’s been to keep her SAG-AFTRA health insurance.
(Weiss Eubanks/NBCUniversal/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

“I always feel like I have to prove that I can handle the long hours. So I won’t complain about a 16-hour a day. I won’t complain about doing 16 takes when we had it on the third take,” she admitted. “I can do this better than anybody — with Stage 4.”

Doherty was brutally honest as well about the battle she’s had with her actor’s union, SAG-AFTRA, about having good health coverage. 

“There are a lot of unions where you get your health insurance based on points. And those points are accumulated over the course of the time that you’ve been in the union. So I’ve been in the union for 40 years; I’ve been paying on top dues for 40 years. And the fact that if I don’t work for one year, my insurance gets knocked down to a lower tier, and the price of it gets jacked very high,” she said in reference to taking some time off after being diagnosed.

“And then that lower-tier only lasts, I don’t know, a year or two years, maybe. And then what?” she questioned. 

Doherty went public with her metastatic Stage 4 cancer diagnosis in February 2020. 
(LISA O’CONNOR/AFP via Getty Images)

Doherty admitted she’s constantly worried about working enough to maintain her healthcare status. “It is something that I worry about, of course, like: “Oh, my God, I’ve got to make sure I earn a certain amount of money every single year to get insurance.” Whereas if you just looked at my 40 years of paying dues, and the pension and all of that the producers pay in on behalf of me, you would think that that would cover my insurance for the rest of my life. And it should,” she said. 

As of this month, Doherty is on a pill regimen for her cancer. “One of them I take every single day, and will for the rest of my life. The other one, I take until my body stops responding to it. I’m very good about — I get my bloodwork done once a month. I get my PET scan and everything else done every six months,” she explained.

She maintains hopes that her “body stays responsive” to the treatment because she finds acting and directing very “fulfilling” creatively.

Doherty praised her inner circle of family and friends for helping to keep her life normal. “No one in my immediate circle looks at me differently. None of them treat me differently. It’s just me,” she said.

“I think having normal in your life is important when you’re dealing with something that’s not normal.”

Meanwhile, SAG-AFTRA Health Plan told Variety in a statement “that health coverage is neither dependent on nor otherwise related to members paying dues, and that the Health Plan and the union itself are different entities.”

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