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Patrick Swayze’s widow recounts her last months with the actor as he battled pancreatic cancer: ‘It was like living in a complete nightmare 24/7′

Lisa Niemi Swayze recalls trying to stay positive about his diagnosis. She also talks about the hate she received from the actor’s fans when she remarried five years after his death

Patrick Swayze y Lisa Niemi
Lisa Niemi and Patrick Swayze at a Christmas party in Beverly Hills, California, on December 18, 1988.Vinnie Zuffante (Getty Images)
María Porcel

It was 1970 when 14-year-old Lisa Niemi met the teenage son of the owner of the Houston dance company she attended. His name was Patrick Swayze. It was love at first sight for both of them, and five years later, at ages 19 and 21, respectively, they got married. Their long marriage was as solid as it was discreet, but it came to an end in September 2009, when Swayze, who had by then become one of the most charismatic actors and dancers in Hollywood, died from pancreatic cancer. Afterward, Niemi released a couple of books and a documentary, and she sat for some interviews. Now, almost 15 years after the death of the star of Dirty Dancing, she has returned to the interviewer’s chair to talk about her last days with the love of her life.

For 50 minutes the now 67-year-old Lisa Niemi Swayze chatted with the television couple Amy Robach and T. J. Holmes on their podcast, Amy and T.J., where she explained that as soon as the actor was told of his illness, he knew that it was a death sentence. “From the first moment he found out he had pancreatic cancer, he turned to me and said: ‘I’m a dead man,’” Niemi crudely recounts in the talk. “I didn’t know much about pancreatic cancer, but he did, and from what he knew, every time you knew heard someone had had pancreatic cancer, he was like, ‘Well, he’s out of here.’” The actor himself knew it and made it public, and in an interview with journalist Barbara Walters in a special on the ABC network in January 2009, he acknowledged that he was “not giving up,” but that he knew that he had “no more than two years” left. In the end, it was nine months.

The dancer has also recalled what it was like when her husband received his diagnosis in January 2008 (he would make it public a couple of months later). The doctors performed an endoscopy and later, while he was still in the hospital, they gave her the result: it was pancreatic cancer. It was then up to Niemi to inform her husband of the illness and decide when and how to do it. He was recovering from anesthesia after the test and she did not want to tell him while he was “still woozy,” so she decided to wait a few hours, fell asleep and, when she woke up, she found a doctor sitting in front of her husband, with him still in bed: “I knew the doctor had just told him.” “And so it was,” she says now, “the doctor told him: ‘You can go ahead and treat it as aggressively as you want, but think about getting your affairs in order sooner rather than later.’ That’s a tough thing to hear.” Hence, he called his sister-in-law, an oncologist in Texas, to help them with the treatment and she recommended that they enter a clinical trial and “go for it.”

From the first moment the couple, who had no children, decided that “every bit of energy” they had would be used to “help him live,” and above all they tried to be optimistic without being naive. She acknowledges that it was not easy and that she cried often but always in secret, because once her husband saw her crying and “it scared him.” “Your life turns on a dime, and it’s just never going to be the same after that. Everything shifted. We always called ourselves optimistic realists, because we probably knew in all likelihood how it was going to turn out, but we held out that he would be the one to make it through it, because miracles do happen. We kept so positive about everything, but I tell you what, it was like living in a complete nightmare 24/7,” she remembers now.

He never gave up the fight for his life, as Niemi also said, and she mentions a particularly painful moment when they were both taking a walk around their ranch in New Mexico and Swayze asked her to go camping one last time. “It was a beautiful day, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and he said: ‘I want to live.’”Although September 14 will mark 15 years since the actor’s death, it is still difficult to talk about him for someone who was his partner for almost 40 years. “It brings up memories that are, you know, are not all that pleasant,” she acknowledged in the interview with Holmes and Robach, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. “But I know what these people feel like when to fight for somebody they love. And to do it with a disease that has so little resources. It’s like, ‘Yeah, we all got to go at some point, but give us a fighting chance.’” Hence, Lisa Niemi is now dedicated to “drawing attention” to pancreatic cancer and its symptoms: “The earlier you catch it, the better.”

In May 2014, Niemi remarried. Her second husband is a divorced jeweler named Albert DePrisco, whom she met through mutual friends about three years after Swayze’s death. Then comments poured in, many of them angry, from some of Swayze’s followers. “Yes, I got a lot of flack, like: ‘How dare you?’ There are some pretty rabid Patrick fans who think I’m evil, that they don’t like me because I was married to him,” she said in the talk. “There was a lot of criticism, and you just learn to deal with it and move on. I was so tempted so times to say: ‘Hey, girlfriend, stand in my shoes, tell me about it. Go ahead, tell me that because I lost my husband, I don’t love him anymore.’ How could you say that? It’s ridiculous.” For her, the actor “is still with me. I still have a relationship with him; he’s physically not here, but every day he’s with me, I feel him there. What was really unusual was... I really fell in love with Albert, and it [...] was interesting how it didn’t affect my love for Patrick one bit. Just because you lose a loved one does not mean that you stop loving them, and that you don’t have that love to give. I think Albert and I were lucky to find someone to give that love to.”

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