“Grizzly Adams” Star Dan Haggerty Has Died

Actor Dan Haggerty has died at the age of 74.

Haggerty, who started his career as a stuntman and animal trainer,  is best known for portraying the character Grizzly Adams in the 1974 movie The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams.  Based on the novel of the same name by Charles Sellier Jr., it told the story of a California man who flees to the woods after being falsely accused of murder.   There he tames an orphaned bear he names Ben and the two travel the woods caring for the wild animals they find.

The film evolved into the NBC television series which ran from 1977 to 1978, and Haggerty became known synonymously with nature-loving James Capen “Grizzly” Adams. He won a “People’s Choice Award”  for most popular actor in 1980.

According to his friend and manager, Terry Bomar, Haggerty went to a doctor last summer complaining of constant back pain. He was diagnosed with a spinal tumor began chemotherapy in August.   Although Haggerty believed his condition was improving, doctors later found a “spot on his lung”.

Bomar went on to say to People magazine:

“All the awards pale in comparison to his huge laugh and wonderful sense of humor that made everyone laugh with him. He would light up any room he entered. He loved life, loved his family, loved his friends and fans.”

What is spinal cancer?

640px-Cervical_vertebra_englishThe spinal cord is a column of nerve tissue that runs from the brain stem down the center of the back. It is covered by three thin layers of tissue called membranes. These membranes are surrounded by the vertebrae (back bones). Spinal cord nerves carry messages between the brain and the rest of the body, such as a message from the brain to cause muscles to move or a message from the skin to the brain to feel touch.

Spinal cord tumors are abnormal growths of tissue found inside the bony spinal column. Spinal cord tumors are less common than brain tumors.  Although they affect people of all ages, spinal cord tumors are most common in young and middle-aged adults.

Spinal tumors can be either benign/noncancerous, or malignant/cancerous. Because the spine is housed within the rigid, bony quarters spinal column, any abnormal growth, whether benign or malignant, can place pressure on the sensitive nervous tissues and impair function. Tumors that originate in the  spinal cord are called primary tumors. Most primary tumors are caused by out-of-control growth among cells that surround and support neurons. The cause of most primary tumors remains a mystery.

In a small number of individuals, primary tumors may result from specific genetic disease (e.g., neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis) or from exposure to radiation or cancer-causing chemicals.

Often, tumors found in the spinal cord have started somewhere else in the body and spread to one or more parts of the cord. These are called metastatic tumors. Metastatic spinal tumors are more common than primary spinal tumors.

Spinal tumors can occur:

  • Inside the spinal cord (intramedullary)
  • In the membranes (meninges) covering the spinal cord (extramedullary – intradural)
  • Between the meninges and bones of the spine (extradural)

Primary spinal cord tumors are made up of one or more of these cell types:

  1. Glial cellsAstrocyte: A large, star-shaped cell that holds nerve cells in place and helps them develop and work the way they should. An astrocyte is a type of glial cell.
  2. Oligodendrocyte: A cell that forms the myelin sheath (a layer that covers and protects nerve cells) in the brain and spinal cord. An oligodendrocyte is a type of glial cell.
  3. An ependymal tumor usually begins in cells that line the fluid -filled spaces in the brain and around the spinal cord. An ependymal tumor may also be called an ependymoma.

What are the symptoms of spinal cord tumors?

Common symptoms of a spinal cord tumor include pain, numbness or sensory changes, and motor problems and loss of muscle control.

Pain can feel as if it is coming from various parts of the body.  Back pain may extend to the hips, legs, feet, and arms.  This pain is often constant and may be severe.  It is often progressive and can have a burning or aching quality.

Numbness or sensory changes can include decreased skin sensitivity to temperature and progressive numbness or a loss of sensation, particularly in the legs.

Motor problems and loss of muscle control can include muscle weakness, spasticity (in which the muscles stay stiffly contracted), and impaired bladder and/or bowel control.  If untreated, symptoms may worsen to include muscle wasting, decreased muscle strength, an abnormal walking rhythm known as ataxia, and paralysis.

Symptoms may spread over various parts of the body when one or more tumors extend over several sections of the spinal cord.

How are spinal cord tumors treated?

Surgery is usually the first step in treating an accessible tumor—one that can be removed without unacceptable risk of neurological damage.  Surgery is aimed at removing all or as much tumor as possible (called resecting or excising) and can often slow worsening of neurological function.

An inaccessible or inoperable tumor is one that cannot be removed surgically because of the risk of severe nervous system damage during the operation.

Surgery may be the beginning and end of your treatment if the biopsy shows a benign tumor.  If the tumor is malignant, doctors often recommend additional treatment, including radiation and chemotherapy, or one of several experimental treatments.

Radiation therapy usually involves repeated doses of x-rays or other forms of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from multiplying.  When successful, this therapy shrinks the tumor mass but does not actually remove it.  Radiation therapy can be used to treat surgically inaccessible tumors or tumor cells that may remain following surgery.

Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing or dividing. Not all tumors are vulnerable to the same anticancer drugs, so a person’s treatment may include a combination of drugs.  Common CNS chemotherapeutics include temozolomide, carmustine (also called BCNU), lomustine, tamoxifen, carboplatin, methotrexate, procarbazine, and vincristine.

More information about spinal cord tumors can be found at:

National Cancer Institute

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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