Patrick Swayze: ‘Do my eyes look yellow?’ – star’s symptoms before cancer diagnosis
Dirty Dancing: Patrick Swayze stars in trailer for 1987 film
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In a documentary airing tonight (Friday, March 25) on Channel 5, viewers are given an insight into Swayze’s life behind the camera, and his lifelong struggle with accepting himself. The star was first diagnosed with cancer in 2008, and after a year of treatment which included chemotherapy and an experimental drug trial, the actor announced his cancer had sadly spread to his liver. Having believed that a lifelong habit of smoking had contributed to the onset of the condition, the star was at first hesitant to seek medical help after experiencing persistent stomach pain and a yellowing in his eyes.
Back in November 2020, 11 years after Swayze had passed away, his wife Lisa Niemi Swayze revealed as part of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month the details behind Swayze’s cancer diagnosis.
“Patrick, he hadn’t been feeling really well,” Niemi shared at the time, reflecting on her late first husband’s illness.
“He’d been having some persistent stomach pain which, you know, we didn’t pay much attention to because he always had kind of a funky stomach.
“And then one day he walked over to me and he says ‘hey, do my eyes look yellow?’ I looked at him [and] I’m like ‘yeah, they do.’
“I said, ‘We’ve got to get you in to see the doctor.’ And he said, ‘Well, maybe next week.’ I’m like, ‘No, no, no. Whatever it is, this is not normal.’
“And we actually called the doctor and [talked about] the yellowness and the jaundice, and he went straight to a CT.
“It was a gruelling 24 hours before we got the results back that it was pancreatic cancer.”
After living with the disease for a year, Swayze opened up to American broadcaster Barbara Walters about what it was like living with cancer.
Keeping a brave face, Swayze began the interview by saying: “I’ve never been one to run from a challenge,” but when asked if he was scared of his condition he went on to say: “I don’t know. I will be, so [it will be] either truthful or stupid to say no. But then I immediately, when I say that, I have to say yes, I am.
“You can bet that I’m going through hell. And I’ve only seen the beginning of it.
“There’s a lot of fear here. 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.”
After 20 months of battling the condition, Swayze sadly passed away on September 14, 2009, aged just 57.
Cancer Research UK explains that around 10,500 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK each year. Overall, it is the 10th most common cancer in the UK.
The pancreas is a gland that produces digestive juices and hormones including insulin. Pancreatic cancer develops when abnormal cells in the pancreas start to divide and grow in an uncontrolled way, forming a growth (tumour).
The cancer cells can grow into surrounding blood vessels or organs such as the small bowel (duodenum). And may spread to other areas of the body.
Although in the early stages of the condition, pancreatic cancer doesn’t typically cause any symptoms, as it grows the following symptoms can appear:
- Pain in the stomach area or back
- Yellowing of the skin or whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- Unexplained weight loss.
The American Cancer Society explains that jaundice is caused by a build-up of bilirubin, a dark yellow-brown substance made in the liver. Normally, the liver releases a liquid known as bile that contains bilirubin which then goes through the common bile duct and is eventually released as stool.
However, cancers that start in the pancreas are near to the common bile duct and can press on the duct causing jaundice.
Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on the type and stage of cancer individuals have. For some individuals, surgery is used to remove the cancer to help individuals to live longer. However, surgery is only used in cases where the cancer has not spread.
For others, chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells. Patients may have chemotherapy either before or after surgery, or if the tumour cannot be removed, chemotherapy is used to slow down the growth of the cancer.
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