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Shannen Doherty & Sarah Michelle Gellar on How to Be a Friend to Someone With Cancer

When a friend or a loved one gets hit with a difficult diagnosis or some upsetting health news, there’s so many unknowns. What can you say? What can you do? How can you be the person they need and process your own feelings and fears along the way? This was the journey longtime BFFs Sarah Michelle Gellar and Shannen Doherty embarked on after Doherty opened up about her diagnosis with Stage 4 breast cancer earlier this year.

In a conversation for Entertainment Tonight, Gellar and Doherty talked about the complicated (and, yes, sometimes even funny) ways friends can navigate a situation — like one of your favorite people having cancer — that feels just so hard and devastating.

“I had just gotten diagnosed, and I wanted you … and the closest people in my life to be told … because I’m the type of person, I’d just call you and be like, ‘Listen, I got stage 4. It’s back and I’ll be OK.’ But I knew that particularly someone like you would have more questions,” Doherty told Gellar about her decision to have a group dinner with her nearest and dearest (plus her doctor!) to help them learn about her diagnosis —and hopefully prevent some unnecessary panic Googling. “So, for me to have Dr. Piro, my oncologist, be there so that he could answer the questions in a very matter-of-fact way… he was able to sort of squash any doubts that people had or to say, ‘Hey, don’t Google, because when you do that you’re going to get some crazy, like, this short of period of time to live,’ and that’s just really not the case. It was really to help you guys.”

Gellar said that the invitation to ask questions and get information in the right way was a great way for Doherty to help her friends lay the groundwork to be a solid support system (and to check their own baggage at the door): “For me, the biggest learning experience through all of this is the education and not being afraid to ask questions,” Gellar said. “I  think that’s the hardest thing is you never know as the friend, the family, what is your place [and] what are you supposed to do. And to be able to have an open forum where you can ask those questions and understand is the greatest gift. I think it helps us be a better support system for you.”

Doherty also adds that one of the biggest misconceptions has been people assuming immediately that her story is a deeply tragic one: “I want people to not hear stage IV cancer and think of the person that is gray and falling over and they can’t move and they’re going into hospice and they can’t work,” she says. “You get written off so quickly, even though you’re vital and healthy and happy and wanting to go out there and work. So, I’m sharing in order to hopefully give a different face to all of this.”

The friends get that it’s hard to have to talk about a disease that can be so difficult to deal with — but also add that life and health are precarious and vulnerable things for everyone: “Nobody ever wants to see their friend suffer, but I think more than that — and I think this year has been proof of that — is that life is short and vulnerable for all of us. We have to live for each moment because there is a clock for everybody. I think people forget that,” Geller says.>

“Right? Everybody’s terminal,” Doherty adds. “I might live a lot longer than somebody who’s perfectly healthy. You have no idea. Also, there are so many different clinical trials going on at the moment. I think that almost every cancer patient is sort of chasing it. You’re chasing the meds. Your meds keep working and working and working, and then at some point, perhaps your body shuts down to them, and you run out of different protocols to use. But really, you’re just hoping that by the time that happens, they have something else. And normally they do.”
Before you go, check out these products breast cancer patients and survivors can actually use: 

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