Friday, January 09, 2009
I grew up in the 80's. The decade of synthesizer pop and The Brat Pack. It's hard not to look back on the era without significant nostalgia since those were my formative years. It took a long long time before I realized that big (as in hair) is not always better. One of my earliest crushes was on an unconventionally handsome guy named Patrick Swayze. He was unusual in that he was well past his teens before he entered the realm of the super-famous. Often playing the older brother of Brat Pack favorites such as C. Thomas Howell and Rob Lowe, he hovered on the fringes with the pretty-boys who starred in such teen favorites as "The Outsiders" and "Red Dawn." But it wasn't until he starred in romantic hits such as "Dirty Dancing" and "Ghost" that he really made a name for himself as crush-worthy to the legions of women, and teenage girls, who saw those movies again and again. Myself included. Swayze was, and is, one of those guys that appeals to men and women alike. He didn't just play the pretty boy. He racked up a pretty fair resume as a tough guy in movies like "Road House" and "Next of Kin." And lest you think he doesn't have the guts to take on unconventional, and risky, roles, he also stepped up to the plate to play a drag queen in "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar" and a pedophile in "Donnie Darko." But his biggest challenge didn't come to him in the form of a challenging role, it came in the form of a deadly cancer. A cancer that, by conventional thinking, should have killed him already. If Swayze was a less determined man, I would be writing his obituary right now rather than a sort of hopeful tribute-- one that hopes this remarkable man can defy the odds and live long enough to find a cure for the pancreatic cancer that Swayze was diagnosed with early last year. Like the rest of the world I first heard about Swayze's cancer through the tabloid press. I had hoped that the rumors of the pancreatic cancer were not true since it is considered to be virtually the worst-of-the-worst types to be diagnosed with. Unfortunately the rumors were true. I am lucky in that my personal experience with cancer is limited. So what I knew about cancer of the pancreas was limited to memories of when Michael Landon, of "Little House on the Prairie," was diagnosed with the disease and died within 3 months of finding out he was ill. Upon hearing about Swayze's cancer I didn't think his odds were too good. I have never personally met Swayze so the news was kind of relegated to the back of my mind with the rest of the celebrity trivia that I have bouncing around back there. It isn't that I didn't care, it's just that celebrity lives exist in a different orbit from my own. I'm not one of those people who tend to claim super-fan status because I know that no matter how much information is made public about celebrity lives, we still don't know them as people. In fact, I tend to admire public personalities who keep their personal lives private. But there are times when something happens in a celebrity's life that reminds us that they too face the same challenges as the rest of us. I don't think there is a person with a soul who's heart doesn't go out to John Travolta and Kelly Preston after the death of their son. I know my heart skipped a beat when I heard about it-- there is no worst nightmare for a parent. And Swayze's situation is similar in that I really feel bad for his wife of 33 years, Lisa Niemi. I really haven't spent a lot of time contemplating Swayze's situation. It's really none of my business and I try not to be the stalker type. But when I saw commercials promoting his new TV show The Beast, I was surprised and I thought, wow, he must not be that sick. After all, how could someone with terminal cancer, a type that frequently kills within months of diagnosis, endure the rigors of working on a television series? Then I saw the Barbara Walters interview of Swayze last night and learned that he didn't have some sort of 'cancer-lite.' He was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer-- probably the worst diagnosis he could have gotten. If I wasn't a fan before, I sure as heck am now. Swayze decided to pursue the role of an undercover FBI agent in A&E's new series despite his battle with cancer. More remarkably, the producers of the show decided to gamble on Swayze's ability to endure chemotherapy while working 12 hour days on a tv show-- that never happens. And not only did Swayze grit his teeth and go to work everyday (only missing 1 day in 5 months of filming) he did it without any painkillers saying he didn't want the drugs to dull his edge and affect his performance. Talk about tough. Now, I don't mean to elevate Swayze's situation above that of everyday people who are going through this ordeal-- and I'm sure he wouldn't want that either. But it's hard not to comment when you see someone going through such a struggle with such grace. Whether he realizes it or not, his ability to fight his disease and survive will have an effect of people who are diagnosed in the future. The longer he survives the more it reinforces the idea that a diagnosis isn't the cue to plan the funeral. He and his wife showed us the face of a family coping with the hard reality of a disease that kills-- and yet still finding a way to live, really live. So, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is simply because I like the man, I hope he continues to defy the odds. I hope he continues to find the will to fight, and live, for a good long while yet. And in my own little expression of belief that he may continue to surprise us with his resilience, and survival, I am going to TIVO "The Beast." I am going to watch the whole season and invest myself in the characters. And I am going to assume that Swayze will return next season as the tough guy I first grew to admire over 20 years ago. Here's thinking good thoughts for Patrick Swayze. Long may he live.