Patrick Swayze’s ‘constant’ symptom due to the ‘rare’ cancer that killed him – ‘why me’

Road House: Patrick Swayze stars in trailer in 1989

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Diagnosed with the condition in late 2007, Swayze spoke openly about his symptoms and treatment, thus raising awareness for the 10th most common cancer in the UK. The lack of research, especially back in 2009 when the star passed away as due to the fact that many individuals who contracted the disease didn’t tend to recover.

In Swayze’s case, the cancer spread to his liver and even after more than a year of chemotherapy and an experimental drug trial he was unable to recover from the disease.

Admitting that he was “going through hell” after a year-long battle with the condition, this was only one example of how Swayze spoke openly about his cancer, his treatment, his thoughts and fears, and his prognosis.

“There’s a lot of fear here,” Swayze continued. “There’s a lot of stuff going on. Yeah, I’m scared. Yeah, I’m angry. Yeah, I’m [asking] why me. Yeah, I’m all this stuff”.

Explaining more about when he first started to suspect something was wrong with his health, the actor said it was around New Year’s Eve when drinking champagne felt like “pouring acid” on an open wound.

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The star then explained: “My indigestion issues got gigantic and constant. And then I started thinking, I’m getting skinny. I dropped about 20 pounds in the blink of an eye.

“And then when you see it in the mirror, when all of a sudden, you pull your eyes down and the bottom of your eyes go yellow and jaundice sets in – then you know something’s wrong.”

After doing some research of his own, and not liking the results, Swayze consulted a medical professional, and was soon diagnosed with a malignant tumour in his midsection and a tiny mass on his liver.

“[I] started realising this is not pretty. This is not a good thing,” Swayze said.

Wanting to keep his diagnosis a secret for as long as possible while he and his wife decided how to proceed, tabloids at the time caught wind of the star’s life-threatening diagnosis and misreported that he only had five weeks to live.

Like 80 percent of pancreatic cancer patients, Swayze was diagnosed when the disease had already spread. This is because the symptoms, including stomach pain and unexplained weight loss, can be vague and blamed on other causes like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

It is important to note that experiencing the below symptoms does not definitely mean you have pancreatic cancer. But it is important to get them checked by a GP to be sure. Catching cancer early means it is more treatable.

With this in mind, symptoms that individuals should be aware, and consult their GP about include:

  • Lost a noticeable amount of weight over the last six to 12 months without trying
  • The whites of your eyes or your skin turn yellow
  • You’re being sick for more than two days
  • You have diarrhoea for more than seven days
  • A condition that causes symptoms with your digestion that are not getting better after two weeks of using your usual treatments.

Speaking about the impact Swayze had on how pancreatic cancer was viewed both medically and by the public, Doctor Joe Hines, director of the UCLA Agi Hirshberg Center for Pancreatic Disease in Los Angeles and a scientific advisory board member of the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research said: “It’s a disease that — because it’s been rare and most people don’t do very well from that traditionally — there wasn’t a lot of attention and there weren’t a lot of researchers focused on it.

“Now, over the past decade, with advocacy like Mr. Swayze did and others, there’s excellent science going on and that clearly is translating into improved treatment.”

In addition to Doctor Hines comments, Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, called Swayze “a turning point” in efforts to raise awareness.

“He absolutely changed the conversation that we were having about this disease. He put a real face behind it,” Fleshman said.

“He gave people a reason to say, ‘Oh, Patrick Swayze, pancreatic cancer, wow. If there was nothing that could be done for him, this is something that we really need to get involved in and we really need to change.’”

For individuals diagnosed with the condition, treatment and the next steps will depend on the size and type of the cancer, how far it has spread and the general health of the individual. Often treatments include chemotherapy, radiotherapy and supportive care.

The NHS explains that there are several surgeries used to treat pancreatic cancer. Surgery will remove part or, in a small number of cases, all the pancreas. They may also need to remove all or parts of other organs around the pancreas. Surgery can also be used to help control symptoms of the disease.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy on the other hand are medicines used to kill cancer cells. They can both be used before and after surgery to help shrink the tumour and improve symptoms of more advanced cancer.

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