Published January 11, 2012
In early 2008 the world was shocked by Patrick Swayze’s announcement that he had pancreatic cancer. Amazingly, Swayze battled on for 21 months, and even managed to shoot a season of the television series, ‘The Beast.’ before finally succumbing to the disease in September 2009 at the age of 57.
His journey is lovingly and honestly portrayed by his widow Lisa Niemi in her book ‘Worth Fighting For Love, Loss, and Moving Forward.’ In it, Swayze's wife of 34 years writes about her caregiver role, all the medical procedures and those awful final days.
FOX411: You have harsh words to say about the tabloid coverage of your husband's illness.
Niemi: We did our best not to let it influence our lives, but when there’s a headline saying he’s dying and there’s a picture of his father’s and sister’s grave and an arrow pointing to where he’s going to be buried... One of the things that’s most precious to a person when they’re fighting a deadly cancer is their ability to hope, and when there’s something there reminding you that in all likelihood you’re going to die, that does a lot to hurt that hope.
FOX411: How are you doing now?
Lisa Niemi: You know what? You know what they say is true, the grief part will get more manageable and it has. Passing the one year mark I really started getting a lot more relief and every month I have more and more good days. Still you never know what’s going to come round and knock you flat.
FOX411: Do you find something inconsequential sets you off?
Niemi: Yes! And you never know. Of course the things you can pretty much count on are the holidays. Those are really tough but I’m lucky enough to have a close group of widow friends and really help to support each other in getting through some of our harder times.
FOX411: You write how you separated for a year.
Niemi: It was around 2003. I don’t think it’s been a secret that he had some drinking issues and things had gotten very bad with that. It was pretty self-destructive behavior. But to his credit he quit drinking and three months later I moved back in and you know at least we had a chance of working on things. As long as there was alcohol involved it was going to be impossible. We were back together but it was still a rough road. In a long relationship there are things that pile up. You can’t spend all your time unraveling every problem that comes up so it kind of gets layered on top and it gets harder and harder to undo and get back to the real reason you guys are together.
Believe it or not, as a birthday gift we were given a visit by a wonderful psychic and I have to say whether she was psychic or incredibly intuitive, but she really saw what was going on in our relationship and not only that, she wasn’t going to leave until we acknowledged what was going on and vowed to change it. We spent a lot of time with her, there were a lot of tears shed and Patrick and I took each other’s hands and walked through that door together and relationship turned around overnight. If I hadn’t of been there myself I wouldn’t have believed it. To me it was miraculous.
FOX411: You say that had you been separated you would have reconciled when he was diagnosed.
Niemi: I was really grateful that we entered into fighting his illness from such a position of strength. He knew that he could lean on me unequivocally and completely and in return I knew I could absolutely open my heart to him. That made for a very, very special journey between the both of us because right from the get go we were in it together. We both knew there was a high price to pay and I think Patrick took care of me during that journey as much as I did for him.
FOX411: You had no help except for his brother?
Niemi: I gave him shots and I’m afraid of needles. I had to get over that. I had concerns whether I would be up to the task. I found that it got to be not a problem because my desire was so great to help him and I was so happy for every moment he was there for me.
FOX411: It’s amazing he shot ‘The Beast’ after he was diagnosed.
Niemi: The actual life expectancy after diagnosis is three to six months. It was seven to eight months after he was diagnosed that he shot ‘The Beast’ and he was working 14 to 16 hours a day, five days a week and getting chemo on the weekends. It was a phenomenal feat. Patrick was a pretty tough guy but I had no idea how tough he could be.
FOX411: Did you two ever argue after he was diagnosed?
Niemi: As far as our classic arguments, yeah here and there. I’d get all pissed off because I thought he’d acted badly but he had a good reason, he had cancer.
FOX411: The cancer card gets you out of everything.
Niemi: That’s right. During one of our arguments he brought up the C word which really upset me. Not so calmly I said back to him, ‘This is happening to me too.’ The look on his face was so heartbreaking. It stopped everything in its tracks right there and he actually never pulled out that card again.
FOX411: It’s an incredibly hard job to look after someone, but can it also be very gratifying?
Niemi: It was a privilege to be there but the caregiver position takes a heavy toll. After he died a girlfriend said, ‘you’re a pretty woman but one that looks like she’s been hit by a truck,’ and I felt like that. And still I would have given my last breath to help him. I would have thrown myself in front of that truck if that would have helped save his life.
FOX411: What was the hardest part?
Niemi: When I actually lost him it was nothing like the grief I’d experienced. I could have gone on forever as long as was here. It was going on without him that was the hard part.
FOX411: And yet you do.
Niemi: Whether you like it or not! It’s so much tougher than I ever imagined. Every day that you get out of bed is going to make you stronger whether you like it or not. In spite of yourself you get better. You can never forget but it doesn’t mean you can’t have good days and I have more and more of them as time goes by.