Lisa Niemi Swayze says one of the first things her husband said after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2008 was: “I’m a dead man.”
Less than two years later, at 57, Patrick Swayze’s morbid prediction came true.
Now the “Dirty Dancing” star’s widow is taking the fight against the deadly disease to Washington, pushing for funding and research to combat the cancer that claimed the life of her husband of 34 years.
Speaking amid a whirlwind trip Tuesday to the Capitol — and joined by 650 people with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PANCAN) who have been touched by the disease — Swayze, 56, said, “My husband died almost three years ago and nothing’s happened [since then.] Everything’s the same. Even the treatment options are the same as when he was alive. The only statistic that has changed is that the number of people diagnosed and the number of people who are dying has risen.”
Swayze and other advocates met with lawmakers to lobby them to pass Rep. Anna Eshoo's (D-Calif.) Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act, which has 251 co-sponsors.
Julie Fleshman, PANCAN’s CEO, lost her father to pancreatic cancer — the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. She’s been fighting for the bill since it was first introduced five years ago.
“We’re committed to getting this done. We want the bill passed this year, in this Congress,” Fleshman declared.
Asked if there’s any particular member she’s looking forward to meeting, Swayze replies, “Anybody who’s not signed on — seriously. We don’t want to be here three, five, 10 years from now asking for the same thing.”
Fleshman adds that “180,000 [people] have died since this bill was introduced.”
Swayze says that, despite his initial reaction, her husband was a fighter in the days and weeks following his diagnosis. He took on a starring role in the A&E drama “The Beast,” which reinvigorated him.
She recalls that time with her lingering Houston drawl: “I love it, because it was like eight months after the tabloids said he was already supposed to be dead, he was out there kicking. He’s working 14- to 16-hour days, five days a week, getting chemotherapy on the weekends. And as we say in Texas, he’s kicking it and taking names.”
He also maintained his unique sense of humor throughout his illness, dubbing himself the “King of Irreverence.”
Swayze says the actor and dancer got a real kick out of a joke based on one of the most famous lines from “Dirty Dancing,” cracking, “No one puts Patrick’s pancreas in a corner.”
But this effort on behalf of PANCAN is no laughing matter to Swayze, who published a memoir about her spouse’s death, Worth Fighting For, earlier this year. She plans on writing a follow-up in the future.
“The fact that [pancreatic cancer research] has not received the support it deserves is completely beyond me. And having gone through it firsthand, it’s very obvious that this is something whose time has come.