An Early Mentor
- Actress Shannen Doherty, a stage 4 breast cancer thriver, began her career as the adorable Jenny Wilder on Little House on the Prairie with late actor and heartthrob Michael Landon, who died from pancreatic cancer in 1991 at 54.
- Doherty shared a throwback pic of herself on Instagram, fondly recalling memories of Landon, who helped launch her career.
- While Doherty is living with metastatic breast cancer, unfortunately Landon was not so lucky, as experts explain how difficult it can be to find pancreatic cancer early. By the time the actor was diagnosed, it had already spread to his liver and his cancer was inoperable.
Doherty, who recently turned 50, posted an adorable throwback pic of herself, “buck teeth” and all, and gave props to her former co-star, who is often credited with launching her career.Read More
“Father Murphy. My first job with the amazing Michael Landon producing,” she wrote. “We worked in Tucson, Arizona in 100 degree plus weather wearing buckskins and I loved every minute. It remains one of my fondest memories. Michael soon after cast me in Little House New Beginnings where I had the privilege of him directing me many times.”
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Former 90210 co-star and supporter Jennie Garth chimed in on the brunette beauty’s post, stating that she is currently watching the Little House series with her daughter. “this is amazing! ps fiona and i are rewatching LHOTP and she keeps asking me when you’re going to be on.”
The American pioneer series—based on the novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder—ran from 1974-1983, and Doherty’s role spanned from 1982-1983.
Landon first noticed Doherty during her appearance on the show Father Murphy for a couple of episodes in 1981, which marked her TV debut, then carried her along to Little House and its spin-offs, and brought her on for a one-off role on his other hit series Highway to Heaven. Sadly, Landon’s career was cut short by his tough battle with pancreatic cancer, and Doherty—who went on to star in the WB’s Charmed series post-90210 with her bestie Sarah Michelle-Gellar, continues to work during her fight with metastatic breast cancer.
Doherty was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 after finding a lump in her breast which turned out to be cancerous. Doherty had hormone therapy to fight the cancer, but it was ineffective and the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
For treatment, she had a single mastectomy and also underwent chemotherapy and radiation.
Doherty announced on Good Morning America early last year that her cancer had returned at stage 4 after being in remission since 2017, meaning it had metastasized and spread to other parts of her body.
Managing Metastatic Breast Cancer
Currently, there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer. But there are a variety of treatment options used to battle this disease, including:
- Hormone therapy
- Targeted drugs
- A combination of various treatments
Experts explain that with advanced disease, “the goal of treatment is to keep you as stable as possible, slow the tumor growth and improve your quality of life.”
Landon’s advanced disease was a different situation, and there wasn’t much warning before it was too late.
There has been talk on the internet as to whether or not Landon got cancer from his Little House days, as it was shot near the Simi Valley’s Santa Susana Nuclear Laboratory, the site of a nuclear reactor meltdown in 1959 called one of the worst radioactive disasters in U.S. history. There has even been a made-for-TV documentary about the topic on REELZ called Michael Landon’s Autopsy: The Last Hours of …, yet experts ultimately declared there was no connection with Landon’s specific case, but some studies did, in fact, show evidence of increased cancer cases in the area.
Tragically, at the time of Landon’s diagnosis, his cancer had already spread to his liver, and he was unable to have surgery performed since it was already too advanced.
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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.”
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.”