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Dana Reeve's fight against lung cancer

Christopher Reeve's widow had hoped to keep illness private
/ Source: Access Hollywood

Ever since Christopher Reeve's passing, his widow Dana Reeve has displayed an unquestionable amazing attitude.

And it's with that same attitude and outlook that Dana faces a new struggle, as she has revealed she has lung cancer.

Less than a year has passed since Dana's optimism inspired a nation grieving for her husband and with Tuesday's surprising news, our thoughts are with her once again.

"We have become accustomed to living our life with joy amidst pain and challenges," Dana told Access Hollywood back in May.

No one knows more about overcoming life's obstacles than Dana Reeve, who made a stunning announcement on Tuesday after finding out the tabloids were going to break the story, the 44-year-old Dana released this statement:

"Based on the imminent release of a tabloid article regarding my personal health, my family and I have decided to release our own statement. I have recently been diagnosed with lung cancer and am currently undergoing treatment. I have an excellent team of physicians and we are optimistic about my prognosis. My family and I deeply appreciate the care and concern of our friends and supporters and trust that everyone understands our need and desire for privacy during this time. I hope before too long to be sharing news of my good health and recovery."

It's been a difficult year for Dana, who lost Christopher last October after a nine-year battle with paralysis. She was by his side throughout, caring for him and working with him at the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation.

"Grief is a tough road because it has hills and valleys, but I always feel like I am moving forward and I will definitely have Chris with me," she told us in May.

Dana was supposed to be in Washington, D.C. on July 13 to support stem cell research but canceled due to "family reasons."

On Tuesday, along with the news of her diagnosis, Dana also had this to say:

"Now, more than ever, I feel Chris with me as I face this challenge. As always, I look to him as the ultimate example of defying the odds with strength, courage, and hope in the face of life's adversities."

The news is even more shocking since Dana is not a smoker, nor was Christopher.

Dr. Ronald Blum, director of the cancer center at Beth Israel Hospital in New York said Dana's case was unusual.

"About 90 percent of women who get lung cancer are smokers, but that leaves 10 percent who've never smoked," Dr. Blum told us. "We really don't know why and it's likely not related to anything environmentally."

According to the American Cancer Society, over 73,000 women will die this year from lung cancer and that's more than breast, ovarian and uterine cancers combined.

While lung cancer survival rates are low – only 15 percent live past five years – Dana's prognosis can still be favorable.

"If lung cancer is caught early, the chances of survival can be good," Dr. Blum added. "With surgery, women can be cured and we also now know new information that chemotherapy can increase the cure rate."

Diana's mother died of ovarian cancer this year, just four months after Christopher passed away.

When Access Hollywood's Tim Vincent spoke to Gwyneth Paltrow on Tuesday morning, he broke the news of Dana's cancer to her good friend.

"Oh my gosh. That's terrible. I had no idea," Paltrow responded. "I've known her since I was a little girl. That's really awful."

Unfortunately, cancer is something that has touched Gwyneth's life before, as she lost her father Bruce to throat cancer almost three years ago.

"I mean if there's anyone who can beat it, that woman has such strength and tenacity," Gwyneth added. "I just wish her well of course."

Comedian Robin Williams, a close friend of the Reeve family, issued a statement with his wife, Marsha, sending "all of our love and support to Dana and her family during this challenging time."

And you can bet Dana remains optimistic too.

"You have to celebrate the gifts because life is so hard and I think once you realize life's gonna be hard, the good stuff really comes forward," Dana concluded in May.

Dana and Christopher have a 13-year-old son Will.