Need a good cry this weekend?
Then you'll want to watch the latest edition of Chelsea on Netflix, in which the comedian is nearly brought to tears several times by her conversation with former Beverly Hills, 90210 star Shannen Doherty, who is currently fighting breast cancer, which has metastasized to her lymphatic system.
Doherty, who's been documenting her cancer treatment on Instagram, hits Handler's sofa to talk about where she is with her treatment and how her illness has affected her sense of self.
The 90210 star, who was joined for part of the interview by oncologist Lawrence Piro, says she's had a mastectomy, completed chemotherapy and is about to start a six-week radiation regimen that calls for five sessions per week. After that, she'll undergo more tests to see if she's finally free of cancer. If so, she'll proceed with a breast reconstruction.
"Right now, I've got an expander, a sort of placeholder that I can inflate or deflate ..." she explained, pointing to the right side of her chest.
"Depending on what kind of mood you're in," Handler finished, making her friend laugh.
Piro says it's also likely that Doherty will go on medication to reduce her body's production of estrogen, a female hormone which feeds breast tumors. And while that may sound less scary than chemo or radiation, he says that treatment has its own negative effects.
"The problem with that is when you rob a woman's body of estrogen, you also take away some of her femaleness. And that manifests itself physically in some ways and emotionally in some ways and you don't feel like yourself," Piro said. "It's not trivial because how you define yourself in the world, how you relate to your partner, how you relate to other people in the world is wrapped up in that essence, which is partly estrogen-driven."
Neither Doherty nor Piro was ready to tempt fate and say the worst is over.
"I don't think either one of us wants to do some joyous dance and say we're out of the woods because we don't know," Doherty said. "To go from that to a bad result would be devastating. To stay calm and level-headed about it is sort of a safer way of guarding your heart."
Later, Doherty got honest about the loss of her trademark brunette hair.
"Losing your hair is hard," she conceded. "And then losing your eyebrows and eyelashes, I think that's worse than the hair. I would almost rather be bald and have my eyebrows and eyelashes. These are not real," she said, pointing at her face.
She recalled her first trip outside of the house or hospital after losing all three.
"Some guy looked and then literally avoided me, as if my cancer could jump to him ... All of a sudden, it hit me, and I got very insecure. I thought, 'I am so not who I used to be.' That put me in a weird spot where I was looking at my husband, thinking, 'He didn't marry this. He married the girl with the long, beautiful dark hair.'"
That experience helped Doherty understand the emotional side of the cancer journey.
"It tears you down and rebuilds you. It remakes you so many different times. So the person I thought I was going to be, or who I thought I was six months ago is now completely different. And I thought that I was so brave or gracious this entire time. And really, I was just hiding."
After pausing to let Handler fight back tears, she continued.
"It was very hard and ... not humbling — because I've already been humbled by cancer — because you're rethinking who you are and how you come to terms with who you are now. And then looking at your husband and going, like, 'Dude, I'm so sorry.'"
That would be photographer Kurt Iswarienko, whom she married in 2011.
"Kurt took his dedication and love for me and took it a whole different level," she proclaimed. "He has a career. We have to earn money and I'm not working because of this. For him, the most important thing was, 'I cannot work when my wife has chemo.' He blocked off so much time for me. I couldn't have made it through this without him, that I know."
She told Handler about her first chemo session, which left her unable to walk or even keep fluids down. "He sat on the edge of the bed and said, 'You have to fight. I can't lose you.' That's someone you want by your side."
While her husband proved to be a rock, some of her friends bailed.
"People went, 'Um, no, you're just not fun anymore. You're sick and you're not drinking. You talk about cancer and I don't want to hear any talk about cancer. I want to talk about me.' It was heartbreaking. But at the same time, that's when I go, 'God, cancer is a godsend in a lot of ways because, boy, did it clean house in my life."
Cancer, she says, also took away her "tough girl front." It's made her vulnerable and prone to "cry at the drop of a dime."
"I have no outer shell now," she said. "I'm ridiculously transparent. For somebody like me, it can be a little scary but it's a good thing. I like the change. There are a lot of bad things about cancer but it's also changed my life in a lot of ways that I will forever be grateful for."
And then there is this lady.... @chelseahandler We met many many years ago. Have run into each other and always exchanged numbers, talked of plans etc. Chelsea reached out and has since, made a point to have date nights with me on a weekly basis. Yeah she's funny but also wicked smart with a huge heart. This one just wants to make a difference. Sometimes the right people come into your life at the right time. #girlpower #fightlikeagirl