Fleischmann goes into personal details about Moran’s cancer, which progressed quickly through her body without the couple’s knowledge. While there was some speculation that Moran’s past use of drugs or alcohol was the cause of her death on Saturday, the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office (in conjunction with the coroner) confirmed that she died from complications of Stage 4 cancer.
Fleischmann and Moran, 56, had just returned from celebrating their 24th wedding anniversary in November 2016 when she first started experiencing unexplained symptoms. She would wake up in the morning and there would be small dime-sized blood stains on her pillow. After multiple days of more and more blood, the pair went to the doctor for a biopsy.
What they initially thought was tonsillitis ended up being diagnosed as squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a rather common form of cancer. According to Fleischmann, she immediately started on a five-days-a-week radiation-and-chemotherapy plan at the Norton Cancer Institute, but continued to deteriorate.
By the middle of February, “It got so bad so fast … Erin could no longer speak or eat or drink.”
The day before her death, Fleischmann says she was having difficulty breathing, and on the day of her passing she “was not 100%.” Moran died shortly afterwards, holding his hand.
“I laid down next to her held her right hand in my left,” wrote Fleischmann. “I feel [sic] asleep woke up about a hour later still holding her hand and she was gone, she was just gone…”
It was only after the coroner’s report that Fleischmann realized to what extent the cancer had spread throughout Moran’s body.
“The coroner told me it was really really bad,” he wrote. “It had spread to her spleen, she had alot [sic] of fluid in her lungs and part of her brain was infected. The coroner said even if she was in the hospital being pumped full of antibiotics she still would not of [sic] made it. He said it was the best that she was with me and went in her sleep.”
(The Facebook post is not public, and isn’t embeddable. Here is a screenshot of the letter in its entirety.)
On Monday, Baio was interviewed on radio program The Bernie & Sid Show, and he insinuated Moran’s death was the result of drinking and drug abuse. He claims he went to bed reading a report that Moran had died of a heroin overdose (he didn’t disclose where he read it), and proceeded to go on the radio show the next morning without reading any updated news. The interview took place hours before the sheriff’s department released their cancer statement.
“I’m OK, a little shocked … but not completely shocked that this happened,” he said on the radio show. “My thing is, I feel bad because her whole life, she was troubled, could never find what made her happy and content. For me, you do drugs or drink, you’re gonna die. I’m sorry if that’s cold, but God gave you a brain, gave you the will to live and thrive, and you gotta take care of yourself.”
He has since posted his own statement to his Facebook page, defending his words and relationship with Moran.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a form of skin cancer that develops in the squamous cells that make up the middle and outer layer of the skin. Typically, it isn’t life-threatening, but it can be aggressive. Without treatment, it can grow large and even spread to other parts of the body, triggering serious complications, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The Canadian Cancer Society says that SCC is a non-melanoma skin cancer, one of the most common cancers diagnosed in the country. Patients with SCC are categorized at “high risk” if they have it on their ears, lips or scalp, if it’s growing quickly, has come back after treatment, or if the cancer has grown into or around nerves, the national non-profit says.
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Most SCC cases are the result of too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, either through direct sunlight or from tanning beds. There are treatment options: surgery, such as excision, or using extreme cold to freeze and destroy tissues. Radiation therapy or medication can also be effective.
Moran played the same character in the early ’80s sitcom Joanie Loves Chachi, a short-lived spinoff with Happy Days co-star Baio. In 2012, Moran was one of the Happy Days actors who won money in a merchandising payment lawsuit against CBS.
Her more recent credits included The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote, but she never approached the success of Happy Days and was more often in the news for her numerous personal and financial struggles. Some reports say she was occasionally homeless.
She and Fleischmann had no children, and as of this writing, no funeral plans have been announced.
— With files from The Associated Press and Carmen Chai