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Shannen Doherty Reveals the Sweet Ways Cancer Can Improve Marriage

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Finding out you have cancer flips not only your world upside-down, but your partner’s world, too — and with that, your relationship. For some, cancer actually allows your relationship to grow in ways you didn’t even anticipate. Actress Shannen Doherty got real about the ways cancer changed her marriage to photographer Kurt Iswarienko, making their connection deeper than it was before.

Doherty, currently starring on the “Beverly Hills 90210” reboot “BH90210” on Fox, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and underwent chemotherapy and radiation. She has been in remission since 2018. She told People magazine in an interview published Thursday that cancer “solidified” her and Iswarienko’s relationship, and gave them a deeper appreciation for each other.

“It’s not that our marriage wasn’t good before. But we were definitely going through some growing pains,” Doherty said. “We would lock horns on things, and instead of resolving it, we wouldn’t speak for a couple of days.”

But now? “We don’t let a night go by mad at each other,” Doherty said. “The last time we had a big argument was pre-cancer.”

She admitted cancer alters all the people in a person’s life and both her and Iswarienko look at life differently now.

“For anybody to think that the only person altered by cancer is the person with cancer is incredibly wrong,” she said.

Doherty called Iswarienko her “rock,” and said they look at each other with “profound respect” now. They have a deeper appreciation for each other and a larger capacity for forgiveness. She also said he is helping her accept how her body changed due to cancer.

“I don’t have to be a sexy little vixen,” Doherty said. “How Kurt sees me really helps me be a better person. He was always like, ‘I’ve never seen someone handle something so difficult with so much grace. You’re so strong.’ And I figured out, it’s a quiet strength. And that is far sexier and appealing than I had before.”

The effect of serious illness on marriage is well-documented, particularly when it’s the wife who gets sick — one 2009 study of 515 patients with brain tumors or multiple sclerosis found only 3% of male patients in the study separated, while 21% of women ended up separated or divorced when they were the partner who got sick.

When your “in sickness and in health” vows are tested, it can be hard for both partners to continue to feel supported and loved in the same way you did before. Your marriage might require you both to adjust how you communicate and spend time together.

Mighty contributor Stacey Philpot shared her three tips for making relationships work in spite of illness: Be honest, invest in one another and find the humor.

“What matters is in spite of the pain, you’re finding ways to enjoy life together,” she wrote.

Lead photo courtesy of Shannon Doherty’s Instagram

Originally published: August 15, 2019
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