How Lisa Swayze Is Taking Action Against Pancreatic Cancer to Honor Patrick

·6 min read
Photo credit: Courtesy of Lisa Swayze
Photo credit: Courtesy of Lisa Swayze

Lisa Niemi Swayze continues to fight on for her late husband Patrick Swayze, more than a decade after his death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 57. In honor of November, which happens to be Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, the 65-year-old dancer and actress spoke with Good Housekeeping about her pancreatic cancer awareness advocacy and time as a caregiver to the late Dirty Dancing star.

Patrick was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in November 2007 and was told by doctors that he had three to six months to live. But even still, Lisa tells us that she and Patrick kept their heads held high the entire time.

"Patrick and I had called ourselves realistic optimists. We knew in all likelihood how this might end up, but I tell you what, every day there are miracles, and people survive and they survive for quite some time … and why not him? So we held out hope for the miracle," she recalls.

Lisa and Patrick ended up getting 22 months together following the actor's diagnosis — and according to Lisa, her late husband of 34 years fought hard for every single second.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Lisa Swayze
Photo credit: Courtesy of Lisa Swayze

"I describe going into that journey as being in a nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from," Lisa recalls. "But at the same time, one thing that was so wonderful about Patrick is he was such a hero in how he faced this. It gave us the opportunity to take each other’s hands and go through this together and help support each other through it. Because sometimes I feel like as much as I was on call for him 24/7, I felt that he was hanging in there also for me."

Photo credit: Courtesy of Lisa Swayze
Photo credit: Courtesy of Lisa Swayze

Lisa remembers when she would bring Patrick to doctor appointments, she'd put her tears on hold so she could keep track of what the medical professionals were saying. Even still, the emotions would catch up to her eventually.

"I would always cry later. Well, you know what? I did cry a lot later," she explains. "It took a huge toll on me, and in retrospect, I wish that I had some resources to help me emotionally with some of the caregiving in that process."

She further explains their particular experience with the disease was even more difficult due to the emerging headlines at the time and constant speculation about Patrick's illness.

"We didn’t feel comfortable letting people into the house to help, and I didn’t feel comfortable talking to people because it was always in the press," Lisa says. "We were really trying to protect him so much. I was trying to protect him so much from the terrible things that were being said, because they were predicting he was going to die every week."



Not long after the world lost Patrick to the disease in September 2009, Lisa was asked to present an award at an event for Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN), an organization dedicated to fighting pancreatic cancer and helping patients with research, advocacy and other resources. She soon found a home within PanCAN and a strong community to lean on and support.

"PanCAN helped to give me a purpose instead of just being helpless. Anyone who’s lost a loved one knows that grief has a life of its own. It isn’t just like, ‘Oh stop feeling sad.’ It’s like its own entity and you actually feel changed on the inside, even your thought patterns are different," Lisa explains. "It gave me purpose, and it gave me purpose on behalf of Patrick ... Just because he was gone doesn’t mean the fight is over, and I was going to continue that for him."

Today, Lisa continues her involvement with PanCAN and is eager to bring awareness to the organization — especially during the month of November. Per the organization, pancreatic cancer is the 11th most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States and an estimated 60,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with the disease in 2021 alone.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Lisa Swayze
Photo credit: Courtesy of Lisa Swayze

Lisa is motivated to help as many families as she can through her work, which has been a huge part of her own healing journey. Though her pain has become less intense over the past decade, she doesn't necessarily believe that time will heal her wounds completely. In her own words, "it kind of just scabs over."

"It’s always there but it becomes manageable," Lisa concludes. "And it’s not going to ruin your life, and you’ll find yourself smiling one day again. You’ll find yourself thinking about things that you did. And when you think about your loved one, you'll grin."

To this day, Patrick still makes her smile. On the actor's birthday, their wedding anniversary and the anniversary of his death, Lisa will make sure to do something creative to honor him, whether that's sending messages up in a balloon or going on a horseback ride he would've loved.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Lisa Swayze
Photo credit: Courtesy of Lisa Swayze

"He used to love to order mini desserts and try a little bit, and so I did that for one anniversary," she remembers.

Lisa continues: "It’s kind of a funny thing, because as it started to hurt less, I actually have felt closer to Patrick. I think in some ways the terrible pain was blocking me from everything. It’s moved to a place where I miss him every day. I talk to him every day. And he’s still in my life; it’s just a different relationship now because he’s not physically here. But he’s still in my life, and he’s still in my heart and he’s with me every day."

In 2014, Lisa married jeweler Albert DePrisco, whom she had met two years prior. As she continues on with her life, Lisa knows for certain Patrick would want her to prioritize her own happiness and wellbeing — and so, she's now doing just that.

"As Patrick and my current husband say, ‘I’m tough, but I’m tender.’ And the part that [Patrick] knows is very tender about me, he wants me to take care of myself and also admires the tough part of me. He knows I ain’t giving up any time soon," Lisa says. "And he knows that I hang in there, and it’s something that I know he’s always admired about me. So he’s probably up there going, ‘You go, girl!’"

For those looking to get involved in the fight against pancreatic cancer or learn more about the disease, please visit PanCAN.org. Caregivers can also go to Cancer.Org for support and important resources.

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