scorecardShannen Doherty says she's decluttering amid her Stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Experts say it's a good way to regain control.
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Shannen Doherty says she's decluttering amid her Stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Experts say it's a good way to regain control.

Amanda Goh   

Shannen Doherty says she's decluttering amid her Stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Experts say it's a good way to regain control.
LifeScience3 min read
  • Shannen Doherty, who has stage 4 breast cancer, is selling her possessions to fund quality time with her mom.
  • Experts say what Doherty is doing is typical of people facing a serious medical diagnosis.

Shannen Doherty, the actor best known for her role in "Beverly Hills, 90210," has stage 4 cancer. She's getting rid of her material possessions so she can focus on spending time with her mother.

On an episode of her podcast, "Let's Be Clear With Shannen Doherty," released on April 1, the actor said she wants to sell off some of her stuff so her mother doesn't have to worry about dealing with it if she dies.

"The cancer, for me, has really made me take stock of my life and shift my priorities, and my priority at the moment is my mom," Doherty, 53, said on the podcast. "I don't want her to have four storage units filled with furniture because I have a furniture obsession."

She also said she hopes to use that money to travel with her mom without dipping into her savings. A representative for Doherty declined to provide additional comment for this story.

Doherty is one of several Hollywood stars who have used their public platforms to discuss the ways they're managing a cancer diagnosis.

In 2014, for example, Michael Douglas said at a film festival panel that being diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2010 taught him to appreciate his family more, per The Mirror.

More recently, during an appearance on the British breakfast program "Lorraine" in March, Scottish comedian Janey Godley told host Lorraine Kelly that she — like Doherty — was also decluttering amid the recurrence of her ovarian cancer.

"I'm getting rid of a lot of clothes, I'm getting rid of a lot of old stuff, the charity shop loves me," Godley said. "I'm paring everything down and getting everything ready so when I do go, it's not such a big trauma."

Taking stock of life

Doherty was first diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and has spoken about her journey with the disease repeatedly on several public platforms, including on a "Good Morning America" episode in 2020. Her comments about getting rid of physical belongings came on the heels of new research that shows the rate of young people being diagnosed with cancer has risen sharply in the past 30 years.

And while researchers don't know why the rate is increasing, Doherty's move to declutter her life is typical of — and often helpful for — people who are facing a serious medical diagnosis, two experts told Business Insider.

Dr. Jeffrey Peppercorn, a breast cancer medical oncologist and the director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Supportive Care and Survivorship Program, told BI he advises his patients to focus on the things in life that are most important to them amid the uncertainty of their prognosis.

"Stage four breast cancer is not curable, but it is treatable, meaning that we can control the disease and prevent it from getting worse, often for years," he said.

"So 'decluttering' your life, whether that means material possessions that you don't need, closets you have ignored for years, or things that you get stressed over that really aren't important, can be helpful," he said.

It's common for people to realize that certain material possessions aren't that important anymore, Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and the author of "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," told BI.

"Someone might get rid of their tools as they realize they won't be restoring that antique car they dreamed about, or they might sell their boat as they no longer imagine a life on the lake where they go fishing," Morin said.

How decluttering can help

"People with a serious illness often have little control over what's going on. But one thing they can control is their material possessions," Morin said. "Selling things, sorting through items, and getting rid of stuff they no longer need may help them feel more in control over something."

Getting rid of stuff might help someone feel like they're relieving their families from that burden, too, Morin added.

However, it's important to note that things can continue to improve, Peppercorn said.

"I would not want every patient that is newly diagnosed with stage four breast cancer to sell all of their possessions, because they may well find they are still alive and doing well four, five, or even 10 years or more in the future," Peppercorn said.

Because of that, he advises his patients to plan for the future, too.

People with serious or terminal illnesses might find it helpful to set goals or create a bucket list, Morin said: "As their priorities shift, they may find there are certain things they really want to accomplish — perhaps without the same fears they might have once had."