"I've never been one to run from a challenge," Swayze told Barbara Walters in his first interview since his cancer diagnosis last January.
Still, when asked if he was scared, Swayze told Walters, "I don't know. I will be so either truthful or stupid as 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," Swayze said. "And I've only seen the beginning of it."
Walters first interviewed Swayze in 1988, at the height of the actor's "Dirty Dancing" fame. When they met again last month at his ranch in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles, Swayze talked openly about his cancer, his treatment, his thoughts and fears, and his prognosis.
"There's a lot of fear here," Swayze said. "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."
The 56-year-old's battle with cancer began late in 2007. As he celebrated New Year's Eve with his wife, Lisa Niemi, Swayze felt that something was wrong.
"I tried to have champagne, and it would be like pouring acid, you know, on an open wound."
Soon he found "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."
Swayze realized that he needed medical attention. "I started doing a little research and started realizing this is not pretty. This is not a good thing."
Doctors found that the actor had a malignant tumor in his midsection and a tiny mass on his liver. Pancreatic cancer is extremely difficult to diagnose, and only after a battery of procedures over several days were his doctors able to make a definitive diagnosis: Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. "For the first few weeks, it was like being in a nightmare you couldn't wake up from," recalled Niemi, 52.
Swayze wanted to keep the secret as long as possible while he and his wife decided how to proceed, but the news of his life-threatening illness broke early last year when tabloids reported he had only five weeks to live. Although the majority of patients with advanced stage pancreatic cancer die within six months of the diagnosis, Swayze told Walters his response to the diagnosis was, "Watch me! You watch what I pull off."
Dr. John Chabot, one of the country's leading pancreatic cancer researchers at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, calls pancreatic cancer the silent killer because there can be few, if any, symptoms.
"One of the most important problems is we tend to diagnose it late. Fifty percent of people, when they're diagnosed, the cancer has already spread to other organs, and there's almost no chance of cure with current treatments."