NEW YORK — Patrick Swayze says his yearlong battle with pancreatic cancer put him “through hell” while he pushed ahead on his new TV series.
“I’ve never been one to run from a challenge,” Swayze tells ABC’s Barbara Walters in an exclusive interview.
But the 56-year-old actor owns up to his fear: “Yeah, I’m scared. Yeah, I’m angry. Yeah, I’m (asking), ‘Why me?’ ”
Swayze’s new A&E police drama, “The Beast,” which premieres next week, meant grueling 12-hour workdays, with chemotherapy sessions on the weekends. He rejected painkilling drugs that would have taken the edge off his performance. In five months, he missed just a day and a half at work.
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“You can bet that I’m going through hell,” Swayze says. “And I’ve only seen the beginning of it.”
A year after his diagnosis with one of the most deadly forms of cancer, the “Dirty Dancing” star told Walters that he already has defied survival rates and reports predicting he should have “been dead a long time.”
But he acknowledged his time may be short. “I’d say 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.”
The American Cancer Society says pancreatic cancer has only a five percent, five-year survival rate. The majority of patients die within six months.
Swayze denied reports he was near death. “Am I dying? Am I giving up? Am I on my death bed? Am I saying goodbye to people? No way.”
Swayze said doctors diagnosed stage 4 pancreatic cancer last January, with the cancer already having spread to his liver.
New Year's pain
Swayze told Walters the symptoms of the disease hit him at once — on New Year’s Eve 2008.
“I tried to have champagne … and it would be like pouring acid, you know, on an open wound, and then my indigestion issues got gigantic and constant,” he explained. “And then I started thinkin’, ‘I’m gettin’ skinny.’”
Swayze said he “dropped about 20 pounds in the blink of an eye.”
“When you see it in the mirror, when all of a sudden … pull your eyes down and … the bottom of your eyes go yellow and jaundice sets in — then you know somethin’s wrong,” he said. “I started doing a little research … and started realizing this is not pretty. This is not a good thing.”
Though he’s managed to film “The Beast,” one thing Swayze hasn’t done yet is kick his smoking habit.
“I’ve seriously cut down,” he told Walters. “I was one of those dumb ones that started back in the Marlborough Man days whose — you know, it was cool. I’m a cowboy. But I’ll tell you one thing. I will talk so hard core against, against smoking for kids. That’s one reason I’ve never smoked in front of children.”
When asked if he thought his smoking caused his cancer, Swayze said it may have had an effect.
“Ooh, I don’t know … I will go so far as to say probably smoking had something to do with my pancreatic cancer,” he said.
Swayze said one reason he continues to smoke is to lesson his daily battles.
“I’ve got priorities,” he said. “It’s just I’ve been dealing with one thing as it comes at time, you know … in the order that it’s trying to kill me. Will stopping smoking now stop anything, change anything? No. But, when it looks like I may live longer than five minutes, I’ll drop cigarettes like a hot potato.”
Although most patients with advanced-stage pancreatic cancer face grim prospects, Swayze isn’t buying into it: “Watch me! You watch what I pull off!”
“Barbara Walters Special — Patrick Swayze: The Truth” will air Wednesday (10 p.m. EST).
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