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Last updated at 8:52 AM on 08th January 2009
After months of showing the world an admirably brave face, it was an admission that no one wanted to hear. A year on from being diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer, Patrick Swayze has admitted that he may have only two years to live.
In his first TV interview since being diagnosed, the Dirty Dancing star told U.S. TV host Barbara Walters that he was ‘scared and angry’ and had been ‘going through hell’.
Looking washed out and exhausted, he said: ‘Five years is pretty wishful thinking. Two years seems likely if you’re going to believe statistics. I want to last until they find a cure, which means I’d better get a fire under it.’
Patrick Swayze and his wife Lisa Niemi, 52, discuss his battle with pancreatic cancer.
The acknowledgement that time is running out is a departure from the upbeat approach the star has adopted in previous months.
For while a haunted look plagued his chiselled face when his illness was first made public, Swayze soon emerged to look surprisingly well.
Toned from work-outs in the gym, he managed to put on weight thanks to a strict health regime which involved drinking glass upon glass of freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juice.
He was also taking a host of homeopathic remedies recommended by well-wishers who have written to him to tell him of their ‘wonder cures’.
And despite not managing to quit the 60-a-day smoking habit that might have contributed to the diagnosis of the usually fatal form of the disease in January last year, he appeared confident in July.
Giving the thumbs-up as he arrived at Los Angeles airport, he said: ‘I’m a miracle, dude – I don’t know why. My treatments are working. I am winning the battle.’
Sadly, his recent admission marked a more sombre mood. He said in the interview: ‘There’s a lot of fear here. Yeah, I’m scared. Yeah, I’m angry. Yeah, I’m asking: “Why me?” ‘
Swayze hit the big time in 1987 when he starred as a dance instructor in ‘Dirty Dancing’
Swayze has been trying his best to keep busy – filming a lead role as an FBI agent in a new U.S. series called The Beast, which involved working in Chicago off and on for three months. Despite the 12-hour-day shooting schedule, he worked without painkillers, taking chemotherapy at weekends.
And he achieved his wish of marking his 33rd wedding anniversary in June with a huge family party.
Unorthodox ways to beat the disease
Despite such milestones, the predictions he made around that time that he might be well enough to appear in a re-make of the 1991 movie Point Break now look unlikely.
As the interview revealed, the fight with his disease is relentlessly arduous – which perhaps makes the unconventional approach Swayze has taken to his treatment even more surprising.
He has told showbiz friends that, in a bid to find a cure, he submitted himself to a range of New Age treatments which he is convinced will prolong his life.
Central to this approach is his insistence on taking tiring, solitary pilgrimages 11,000ft into the New Mexico mountains in search of an ancient Red Indian ‘healing place’.
He takes only a packhorse and his dogs with him as he disappears ‘to commune with nature and ask the spirits to make (him) well’. He is also said to have filled his homes with New Age crystals which are supposed to promote well-being.
The actor and co-star Demi Moore sizzled in the 1990 hit film ‘Ghost’
And he is, apparently, taking seriously a spiritualist who has told him he has detected psychic powers in him which he must put to use in order to banish the tumour from his body. Swayze was also said to be considering flying to Germany to undergo controversial stem-cell treatment in a centre where his fellow Hollywood star Farrah Fawcett was a patient.
Reports in the U.S. said he had made inquiries about the therapy – which is banned in America – at the clinic in the spa town of Bad Wiessee in Bavaria.
In the meantime, he has been treated with the experimental drug Vatalanib at the specialist cancer centre of the prestigious Stanford University in California.
But still the prognosis is grim. His doctors, who operated after his diagnosis using ‘CyberKnife’ technology – computer-operated surgery which targets cancer cells with high doses of radiation – discovered the disease had taken hold in a small part of his stomach.
They removed the affected area, but the tumour spreading was not good news – leaving Swayze to face the depressing odds that fewer than 5 per cent of pancreatic cancer suffers are alive five years after diagnosis.
For patients whose other organs become affected, survival time is rarely higher than a few months.
Preparing to confront death
Swayze has already outlasted that, but in a sign that he had been preparing for the worst, the actor drew up a legally binding ‘living trust’ at the end of April which places all his assets in the hands of his wife and sets out his wishes for the final stages of his life and the handling of his funeral.
He is said to have stipulated that he is buried in the same cemetery as his father Jesse, who died of a heart attack in 1982, and his sister Vicky, who was killed by an overdose of anti-depressants in 1994.
Despite his ill health, Swayze has resisted his wife’s attempts to convince him to give up his 60-a-day smoking habit. He is seen here puffing on a cigarette after a hospital visit
He and Lisa, whom he met when she attended his mother’s dance classes in Houston, Texas, are also reported to have renewed their wedding vows in a tearful service in front of a handful of family and friends at their home in the New Mexico desert.
During the service, he is said to have told her: ‘I will always love you and can’t imagine how my life would have been without you.’
The couple, who are renowned for their rock-solid marriage, have also reluctantly had to give up their hopes of adopting a child.
They had been looking into taking on a child since August 2007, after finally conceding that they would not be able to have a baby of their own.
The couple lost the child they were expecting in the late Eighties, and three years ago Lisa had another miscarriage after IVF treatment. It is his blonde wife, who was just 14 when they first met, whom Swayze credits with saving him from the demons that have often threatened to submerge him.
At the height of his success in the early Nineties, she forced him to seek help for his alcoholism by threatening to walk out if he did not check into rehab. Swayze had turned to drink and dabbled with cocaine to deal with the loss of his beloved cowboy father.
Stories of his excess were legion. In 1987, following the London premiere of Dirty Dancing he returned to his suite and drank the bar dry before trashing the room in a drunken frenzy.
Despite his anger at what is happening to him and the quiet determination with which he has approached beating his illness, a trace of Swayze’s rebelliousness lives on. He still refuses to take the orders of his doctors and his wife to give up smoking – which is said to treble the chances of contracting pancreatic cancer.
And asked in Walters’ broadcast if he feared death, Swayze looked pensive for a moment before answering: ‘No.’
He continued: ‘I keep dreaming of a future, of a future with a long and healthy life, not lived in the shadow of cancer, but in the light.’
His legions of fans around the world can only hope that he lives to see that future.