Gone But Not Forgotten
- Fans were smitten with Little House on the Prairie star Michael Landon and saddened by his passing 30 years ago from pancreatic cancer, but we have to remember that a family lost a father and husband.
- Landon’s daughter Leslie Matthews, who actually played the role of Etta Plum on Little House on the Prairie along with her dad, recently shared some memories of the late heartthrob to pancan.org, and expressed how the family keeps his legacy alive to this day.
- A leading expert shares why pancreatic cancer is tough to diagnose early: By the time patients visit a doctor with symptoms, the disease is often too advanced to treat.
“We keep Dad’s memory alive by celebrating his best qualities and incorporating them into our lives,” the former actress wrote. “My Dad was very loving and affectionate; he had an amazing sense of humor and laughter was always a priority in our home. He dedicated time to better the lives of others and was never too busy to help those in need. He was a storyteller and loved adventure.”
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Matthews, now a clinical psychologist, says that she made it a priority to put family first and love her husband, whom she has been married to for over 30 years, and children with all her heart. “My kids grew up in a very loving home just as I did. We make time for each other and support each other’s dreams.”
Matthews and her husband share frequent joy and laughter, which is so important while we are here on this earth. “My Dad taught me that – he was the most fun, and his laughter was contagious,” she said. “In fact, his laugh is my kids’ favorite. They all watched their grandpa’s shows (especially Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie), and they got to know him through the screen, hearing his voice – and that famous laugh.”
Unfortunately, Landon never got to meet Matthews’ children, but they “hear the amazing stories and they know all about his life. I even took my daughter Catherine to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Missouri and read all the Little House books to her.”
The loving daughter sees her dad in all of her children.
“I have two sons, Justin and Joe, who are filmmakers; my daughter Rachel is an actress, and Catherine is a songwriter and has a beautiful singing voice,” she says. “For my birthday last year, she sang along with Dad’s song, ‘Shenandoah,’ from Bonanza.”
Landon’s sons Chris and Mike, Matthews’ brothers, have his “crazy talent” as directors and writers. Her sister Jen is an actress. “It’s so fun to see these creative genes get passed down through the generations.”
Matthews ended her tribute by saying that she is “incredibly blessed and thankful for the amazing life my parents have given us. Dad was so young, only 54, when he died of pancreatic cancer. He loved his life, travel, an amazing career with a dedicated crew and he cherished his family. All of this is important to pass down to my children!”
Landon had a total of nine children. He was married three times: Dodie Levy-Fraser from 1956–1962, Marjorie Lynn Noe from 1963–1982, and Cindy Landon from 1983 up until his death. Marjorie is Matthews’ mother.
Landon’s Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis
Michael Landon’s pancreatic cancer had spread to his liver and was inoperable at the time of diagnosis.
Landon received chemotherapy treatment, but the prognosis was grim. Even now, the 5-year survival rate for people with pancreatic cancer that has spread to distant areas of the body is around 3%, according to the American Cancer Society.
Nevertheless, the handsome TV star handled the diagnosis with humor and grace. “I think you have to have a sense of humor about everything,” he said at a 1991 press conference. “I don’t find this particularly funny, but if you’re going to try to go on, you’re going to try to beat something, you’re not going to do it standing in the corner.”
Screening For Pancreatic Cancer
It’s often difficult to diagnose pancreatic cancer early. By the time patients visit a doctor with symptoms, the disease is often too advanced to treat. Since the pancreas is in the abdomen, it’s hard to tell issues specifically within the pancreas. Only about 20% of individuals with pancreatic cancer will qualify for surgery.
“By the time individuals walk into the clinic with symptoms like jaundice, weight loss, back pain, or diabetes, it’s often very late in the stage of the disease,” Dr. Anirban Maitra from MD Anderson Cancer Center tells SurvivorNet.
Each year in the United States, about 53,000 patients get pancreatic cancer, “And unfortunately, most will die from this disease within a few months to a year or so from the diagnosis,” he says. “And the reason for that is that most individuals, about 80%, will actually present with what we called advanced disease, which means that the cancer has either spread beyond the pancreas or into other organs like the liver, and so you cannot take it out with surgeries.”