For Swayze, surgery to remove the cancer was not an option because it had spread to his liver. He embarked on an aggressive course of traditional chemotherapy along with the experimental drug Vatalanib.
Beating the odds, Swayze has lived with his cancer for a year and has stayed out of the spotlight, except when he appeared on the televised "Stand Up to Cancer" fundraiser last September. The crowd leapt to its feet when he walked onstage.
"I keep dreaming of a future, a future with a long and healthy life," Swayze said, "not lived in the shadow of cancer, but in the light."
Swayze has been a beloved actor for decades, with cultlike fans who claim to have watched his films hundreds of times. It has been 22 years since the sexy gyrating star of "Dirty Dancing" boogied into the hearts of a generation, and his Texas cowboy heritage came in handy for his role as a take no prisoners bouncer in a Midwest saloon in "Road House."
He was macho enough to play a man playing a woman in "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar," but it was his role in "Ghost," opposite Demi Moore, that sealed his destiny among the top romantic actors of all time.
"I think everybody thought I was out of my mind, you know, thinking I'm gonna pull off a TV show," said Swayze, who plays an FBI agent battling internal demons.
The work was exhausting, and he could not rest on the weekends because he was undergoing intensive chemotherapy. But Swayze never let on to co-star Travis Fimmel or anyone else on the set how tough things were.
"It is grueling," said Fimmel. "I feel, sometimes I'm real tired, but I got nothing to complain, you know. Patrick's there every day."
No matter how bad he felt, Swayze said he refused to take painkilling medicine. "When you're shooting, you can't do drugs," he told Walters. "I can't do Hydrocodone or Vicodin or these kinds of things that take the edge off of it, 'cause it takes the edge off of your brain."
In five months, Swayze missed 1½ days of work.
Through it all, Niemi was by his side, during the private hours of excruciating pain and on the set, always supporting his decision to continue the work he loves. She even directed him in an episode.
She said it was Swayze's decision to commit to the series, but "the moment he showed up in Chicago there was this enormous burst of energy that was stunning. And that kind of said, you know, maybe we are in the right place."
The couple met 36 years ago, when 16-year-old Niemi walked into his mother's dance studio in Houston and 20-year-old Swayze was smitten for life.
Married for 33 years, Swayze said of his wife, "I have no greater respect for any other human being on this earth like I have for her. Part of me says I couldn't have made it through without her, but, of course, the other part of me says I could have, but not nearly as elegantly as I have."
Swayze insists he doesn't want to be the poster boy for living with cancer, but like it or not, his stubborn refusal to let cancer alter his life has become an inspiration. He has received thousands of letters from around the world with advice and encouragement.
"The outpouring of love has, has constantly astounded me," Swayze said.