Lisa Niemi Swayze, wife of late actor Patrick Swayze, spoke about courage, bravery and being grateful for life in front of a crowd of more than 100 people when the Somerset Medical Center and Community Visiting Nurses Association held a program for caregivers at the Wednesday.
Niemi Swayze answered questions about caring for her late husband, who died in 2009 after more than a year dealing with pancreatic cancer. She spoke about her time with her husband, and how she dealt with all the care required to keep him alive after his diagnosis.
"Where he was strong, I was weak, and where I was weak, he was strong," she said of her husband. "He was a man who was not going to let cancer dictate his life."
Niemi Swayze spoke about her new book, “Worth Fighting For: Love, Loss and Moving Forward,” which details the months following Patrick Swayze's diagnosis until his death in September 2009.
"I found myself taking on a variety of roles, medical roles and others," she said. "And on an emotional level, I knew when to push and when to pull back. Sometimes I really pushed and sometimes I held his hand."
What was especially helpful, Niemi Swayze said, was when her brother-in-law Donny moved in and helped take over between 30 and 50 percent of the care for Patrick.
"My advice to other caregivers is to give yourself breaks," she said. "You don't want to make yourself sick."
In addition, Niemi Swayze said, all families have to decide for themselves how to deal with a potentially fatal illness.
"Everybody deals with illness differently," she said. "It's an individual choice. [For us], it was all about saving his life."
Throughout the book itself, Niemi Swayze includes excerpts from her journals over the years, and she said writing has always been a form of release for her.
But overall, she said, she learned to appreciate what she has and the little triumphs that came all the time, like the fact that her husband was able to star in a television series just six months after his diagnosis.
"He wasn't supposed to be alive and he was," she said. "It was like being in a transcendent world."
"We only talked about death for a period of three minutes, we didn't want that negativity getting into our lives," she added.
Still, Niemi Swayze said, it was difficult for her to stay strong sometimes.
"I stayed strong and paid a big price for it later," she said. "I said that I need to be here for him right now, and I can cry later."
"But he was extremely understanding toward me, and a lot of the time he was trying to take care of me too," she added.
For many people in attendance at the program, they had an opportunity to hear Niemi Swayze's story and relate to it.
"I always liked Patrick, and his story touched my heart," said Kathy Jo Engelhardt, of Sayreville. "I had to get the book and I had to see her."
For Sue Nelson, who attended the program, everything was a little more personal.
"My husband passed away from pancreatic cancer over Thanksgiving," she said. "This was about having someone who also went through this experience."
Nelson said it is a hard experience and she wanted to hear from someone who has gone through the ordeal.
"I can't wait to read the book to find out what the future holds," she said.
For Niemi Swayze, watching her husband suffer was painful, but she did all she could to help him through, and now she is continuing to find the strength to move forward.
"I felt like I was in a nightmare at the time," she said. "Nothing prepares you for the loss. But I was so grateful for every moment we had."