"Just because you lose someone doesn't mean love stops," Lisa Niemi Swayze said.
Patrick Swayze and Lisa Niemi had a love story for the ages. The two were just teenagers when they first met and tied the knot in 1975. One of five children raised in Houston, Texas, Patrick's mother Patsy was a dance teacher and Lisa was one of her students. Little did they know that their meeting in Patsy's studio would end up being a 34-year-long marriage! They were together until the actor's last breath in 2009 when lost his battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 57. The Dirty Dancing star was with his wife and brother during his final hours at his ranch in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles, reports PEOPLE.
In a recent interview, Lisa reflected on the actor's "heartfelt, grueling, tough, determined fight for 22 months" with Good Morning America. Swayze "did not want to become the poster boy for cancer" but his "huge heart" helped him push through. "I used to always say, particularly with the kinds of roles that Patrick liked to play, he always liked to be the hero. I always said, 'You give him a sword, a cape and a horse and he's a happy man,'" she said. "But I tell you what, when it came to him fighting his illness, this disease, you really saw he really was a hero." She saw a side of him that "he always wanted to be," which was a "truly courageous, humble, loving, determined [and] strong" person. She revealed she looked on with "such awe and admiration with how he did it."
However, she admitted that this year being Swayze's 70th birthday was particularly difficult for her. She found it hard to grapple with her grief. "...It all came back to me," she said. She added, "It's kind of like a wound and it heals over, but there's always that scar." But she has learned to manage it well. "It resolves, and I've learned to take the good with the bad. And, you know, the bad parts are the price of having a wonderful, great love -- and I'll take that any day of the week. I'd do it all over again," she said.
The late actor's wife also urged those who experience the disease and their loved ones to "be brave together." "Hold each other's hands and go through this," she said. "Look each other in the eye, because this is an opportunity for a closeness beyond what you ever imagined." She understands it's not easy being a caregiver during such a difficult time and advised others to take "breaks here and there." "Be good yourself … and talk to people who are going through it."
Before his death, Patrick who was known as the lead in romantic movies such as 1987’s Dirty Dancing and 1990’s Ghost admitted that his real-life love inspired his acting. “Lisa and I have built just about every character I’ve done,” he told PEOPLE in 2007. “You have to understand, we have an ease. … We’ve been partners for a long time.” He also described his wife of 34 years who was by his side throughout his battle with cancer as his "pillar of strength".
Though Lisa found love again after Swayze's death, she said that her deep love for her ex-husband "hasn't changed in finding new love." She added, "Just because you lose someone doesn't mean love stops."
Niemi considers it her "great honor" to play even a small part in helping change the lives of those who are fighting the disease or their loved ones for the better. "Just because Patrick passed on … didn't mean that fight was over, and I was carrying that on for him," she said. "The fact that November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month is so important," Niemi Swayze said. She added that "funding and research and better treatments and early detection" is the only way to manage and stop the disease.
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Mark Mainz