Lisa Niemi Swayze Recalls Life and Illness of Patrick Swayze
Community Visiting Nurse Association and Somerset Medical Center sponsored a program for caregivers on Wednesday, January 4, that featured Lisa Niemi Swayze, wife of late actor Patrick Swayze. She discussed her new book, “Worth Fighting For: Love, Loss and Moving Forward,” which details the months following Patrick Swayze's diagnosis until his death in September, 2009.
A crowd of more than 100 people attended the event, where Niemi Swayze spoke and answered questions about caring for her late husband, who died in 2009 after more than a year dealing with pancreatic cancer. She discussed their time together and the care required to keep him alive in the face of a devastating diagnosis.
"Where he was strong, I was weak, and where I was weak, he was strong," she said of her husband. "He was a man who was not going to let cancer dictate his life. And on an emotional level, I knew when to push and when to pull back. Sometimes I really pushed and sometimes I held his hand."
The experience taught her to appreciate what she has and the little triumphs that came all the time, like the fact that her husband was able to star in a television series just six months after his diagnosis. "He wasn't supposed to be alive and he was," she said.
Addressing caretakers, she advised attendees to "give yourself breaks," she said. "You don't want to make yourself sick." Getting help from family was vital, she said, noting that her brother-in-law moved in with them and took over a portion of the care needed by Patrick.
Niemi Swayze noted that families have to figure out how they will deal with a potentially fatal illness. "Everybody deals with illness differently," she said. "It's an individual choice. [For us], it was all about saving his life."
Still, Niemi Swayze said, sometimes it was difficult for her to stay strong.
"I stayed strong and paid a big price for it later," she said. "I said that I need to be here for him right now, and I can cry later. But he was extremely understanding towards me, and a lot of the time he was trying to take care of me, too," she added.
Niemi Swayze drew on the journals she kept throughout the years to write the book, which provided her an emotional release.
People in attendance at the program had an opportunity to hear Niemi Swayze's story and relate to it based on their own experience in caring for loved ones with a devastating illness.
Niemi Swayze is slowly finding the strength to move forward after such a difficult ordeal.
"I felt like I was in a nightmare at the time," she said. "Nothing prepares you for the loss. But I was so grateful for every moment we had."