A wonderful friend, Sharon, asked me to post a blog about Patrick Swayze. That was a year ago. I have tried many times to write this; but, honestly, it became too difficult. I think writers tend to internalized what they are writing about, or at least, this writer does. So, here I am again, desperately trying to complete a lovely request for a dear friend.
That day, in 2009, truly shocked me. Patrick Swayze had passed away at the age of 57 from pancreatic cancer. This cancer is one of the most dreaded of cancers; since, the odds of survival are minuscule for both genders. Early detection is extremely difficult because the symptoms often mimic other illnesses. Once diagnosed, it is usually too late for most people. Most patients usually succumb from a few months to a year.
When Swayze was told that he was in the advanced stages of this disease, his doctors gave him a timeline of a few months. Going home and waiting for the end to come is not the Swayze way. Instead, Swayze fought his cancerous battle for 20 months while at the same time he miraculously finished the first season of a popular television show, The Beast with Australian co-star Travis Fimmel (Vikings, Ragnar).
For the millions of fans, who have seen his movies, felt he had a special something that was totally unique. The likeable Swayze is known for his dance moves in Dirty Dancing (1987) with Jennifer Grey; romantic lead in Ghost (1990) with Demi Moore; and as an action hero or villain like in Point Blank (1991) with Keanu Reeves; but, not many knew, at the time of his death, that he was also a professionally trained ballet dancer who had an opportunity to dance with Russian born, Mikhail Baryshnikov.
In addition to acting and dancing, he own and worked a horse breeding ranch. He actually rode his horses in the equestrian championships. After high school, he toured with Disney on Parade which is something that I always thought was endearing. He skated as Prince Charming for a year before an old injury made it impossible for him to continue. He focused on dance; until, it became too physically painful for him to continue. He finally switched his creative focus on an acting career.
Besides acting, riding horses, skating, dancing, and being athletic in various sports, he could sing and write songs; in addition, he was a screen writer who rewrote many of his scripts; and he built furniture. What I learned about the multi-talented Swayze, I obtained mostly from his memoirs, The Time of My Life, co-authored with the love of his life, his wife of over 34 years, Lisa Niemi. This book was completed two months before he died.
One of the greatest loves, in anyone’s life,
is the person who taught you: How to love
Swayze dedicated his memoir to his father, Jesse (Big Buddy). At home, Patrick Swayze was known as, Little Buddy. Swayze said his father taught him that “a man can be tough and gentle at the same time.” One of the things that intrigued me about his father, Big Buddy, was that he too was an multi-talented individual. He was a championship rodeo rider who would later become a chemical engineer. His mother, Pasty, was a choreographer and owed a dancing School where she coached young talent, especially her second born child, Patrick.
Swayze was born in 1952 in a small town outside of Houston, Texas. Although bullying in recent times is considered unacceptable and in many places a crime, during Swayze’s young life, it was just how things were done…to make you stronger. You can only imagine how a football player taking ballet lessons would attract the unwanted attention of the worst kind of bullies. For years, Swayze took it “like a man”; until, one day he was attacked after school by five bullies. They severely beat him.
At this point, Jesse had enough. Taunting and throwing a punch is one thing; but now, they crossed the line. He could have called the police; but, men at this time, handled their own problems. He went to the school and met with the principal. He arranged for each of the five boys to be bought to the football locker rooms after school. They took one boy, at a time, and locked him in the room with Little Buddy.
Let’s just say, young Swayze made them feel his wrath with bare-knuckles. The biggest and also the ring leader of the bullies was saved for last. So, after taking a beating and then fighting four more times, Little Buddy had to face the last fight with the biggest and best fighter of the nefarious group. This fact did not go unnoticed, by anyone. Yes, Little Buddy beat the “tar” out of each of those five boys. Needless to say, after the fight the bullies left Patrick alone.
Of course, a parent or principal would not get away with this type of problem solving today. But, at that time in their perspective, this was an honorable way to handle things. The possibility of this happening today, with parental permission and approval of a school board, would be as believable as this Elf “Buddy” being “real.”
Afterwards, Swayze continued his dance lessons as he planned and practiced to be a future Olympian gymnast. Until a football injury and a staph infection nearly cost him his leg and becoming permanently disabled. As we know, Patrick fought the fates and his own body pain to prevent this life changing disability from completely derailing his dreams. His dreams may have taken a detour; but, he never stopped pursuing them.
Jesse was the kind of father that his son respected and wanted to be like. He taught him what is “really” important in life: to never give up and to strive toward his dreams. Ironically, both Swayze men would die at the same age, 57 years old. On the day Jesse died, he was walking his dogs on a nature trail when he had the heart attack that took his life. Later, Patrick said it was the way his father would have preferred to leave this earth: to go quickly and to be outside, in beautiful surroundings, with his beloved dogs by his side. Perhaps, all of these lessons made Swayze stronger when he faced the biggest fight of his life:
Fighting cancer has been the most challenging and eye-opening experience I’ve ever had….it sent me on an emotional journey, deeper than anything I have done before.
Life Lessons From A Fighter
Throughout his memoirs, Swayze tries to relay some of the lessons he learned. I have listed a few of them below:
- Facing your mortality is the quickest way possible to find out what you are made of… It strips you to your soul
- The easiest way to destroy people is to give them exactly what they want.
- Once you get what you want, you say: Is that all there is?
- Dealing with fame is the purest way of dealing with your demons.
- The struggle is much more satisfying than the actually getting it.
- The act of striving is what keeps you alive, and keeps you grounded
- Tricky thing about success, the more of it you have, the more you fear it will disappear.
- Taking responsibility is not the same as taking on the guilt and blame. Saying this is my fault is not taking responsibility. This is passing judgement on yourself. To take responsibility, you figure out what’s wrong, be aware, and take steps to change things for the better.
- For a strong and healthy marriage: Both must desire to save the marriage. That is the key. Never give up on each other and never stop trying.
- The tools and techniques you use to overcome physical pain just plain don’t work on emotional pain.
Everyone has a unique story to tell. Hopefully, the story is a mixture of poignant life lessons that reflect elements of love, strife, humor, and wisdom. Patrick Swayze’s life encompassed fascinating stories of love and courage. His story details his tenacious determination; and, his ability to imagine the impossible. It’s for this reason that Swayze’s story is inspiring and unforgettable.
Just a note: If you know of someone who has been affected by cancer, please consider giving a donation to one of the many charities who are researching for cures. I have included a few links below:
Bloodwise/ My Peak Challenge (MPC):
World Child Cancer:
The American Cancer Society
Video of Dirty Dancing
A link about Pancreatic Cancer