DANA REEVE LOSES HER BRAVE CANCER BATTLE 16 MONTHS AFTER THE DEATH OF HER HUSBAND CHRISTOPHER
March 21, 2006
By Rosalind Powell
Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark
‘Dana showed us all the true power of love. She was an unflinching optimist who never let anything get her down’
Together for 17 years, Dana and Christopher shared a bond so strong that her presence was referred to by doctors as his "medication". She was credited with giving him years of "borrowed time" after his accident in 1995.
'I'll be with you for the long haul, no matter what. You're still you and I love you' Dana to Christopher
With the love and support of Dana, his children Matthew and Alexandra from his first marriage (below and the couple’s son Will (below right), the actor’s courage never wavered and his incredible progress amazed medical experts.
She devoted her life to caring for the man she once described as "extraordinary". Now, less than 18 months after the death of Superman actor Christopher Reeve, his widow Dana has died from lung cancer.
The 44-year-old actress and singer gave up her career to look after her husband after he was paralyzed in a riding accident in 1995. She not only cared for him on a daily basis, but after his death in October 2004, aged 52, Dana took over his work at the Christopher Reeve Foundation, campaigning tirelessly for those suffering from spinal-cord injuries She was also a devoted mother to their 13-year-old son Will and to Matthew and Alexandra, Christopher's children from his first marriage.
But less than a year after her husband's death, in August 1995, she received the shocking news that she was suffering from lung cancer - despite being a lifelong non-smoker.
Christopher's death in August 2004 was mourned by the many thousands of people whose lives he had touched, and 900 guests attended his memorial service. Less than a year later, Dana was diagnosed with lung cancer. For Matthew. Alexandra and Will (with Dana, below), the only comfort is knowing that, to the very end, Christopher was her inspiration. Asked how she remained so upbeat, Dana once replied: "I was married to a man who never gave up.”
We are extremely saddened by the death of Dana Reeve, whose grace and courage under the most difficult of circumstances was a source of comfort and inspiration to us all," said Kathy Lewis, president of the Foundation, who had visited Dana in hospital just days before her death, and described her as "tired but with her typical sense of humour and smile, always trying to make other people feel good. "She was a woman with an incredible heart who really put herself out there to help people with disabilities, and especially those who are care-givers something she knew a lot about."
Former US President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary led the tributes to Dana, describing her as a model of tenacity and grace. "Despite the adversity that she faced, Dana bravely met these challenges and was always an extremely devoted wife, mother and advocate. Dana was an inspiration to us and we will miss her," they said.
Comedian and actor Robin Williams, the close family friend who was among those who spoke at Christopher's memorial ceremony, said of Dana's death: "The brightest light has gone out. We will forever celebrate her loving spirit."
Actress Jane Seymour, who co-starred with Christopher in the movie Somewhere in Time, added: "She showed us all the true power of love, an unflinching optimist who never let anything get her down - and if she did, she never showed us."
No one who heard Dana speak at a Foundation fundraising gala four months ago would have guessed her illness was terminal. Glowing in a glamorous gown, she sounded positive about the future. "I'm beating the odds and defying every statistic the doctors can throw at me," she said. "My prognosis looks better all the time." Asked how she kept her spirits up, she replied: "I was married to a man who never gave up."
Throughout their lives, the couple were each other's tower of strength. They met in 1987 when Christopher, star of the 1978 film Superman and three of its sequels, spotted Dana singing in a late-night cabaret. In 1992 they married, and their son Will was born later that same year.
Three years later, their lives were turned upside down when Christopher broke his neck after being thrown from his horse. Paralyzed from the neck down, he was unable to breathe on his own. But Dana never once wavered in her support of him or doubted her love for him. In his autobiography, Christopher describes how he suggested that maybe she should "let him go". Her reply was unequivocal: "I'll be with you for the long haul, no matter what. You're still you, and I love you."
Their bond was so strong that Dana's presence was referred to by doctors as Christopher's "medication", adding years of "borrowed time" to his life.
For Dana, the biggest surprise after the accident was her own emotional and mental strength. "Chris is ten years older than me and in subtle ways he took care of me," she told HELLO! six years ago. "When he was hospitalized, suddenly I was in charge." The change had its benefits, though. "He's still my mentor in many ways, but what's nice is that I grew up in his eyes, too. I became his equal in a more profound way than ever before. It's deepened a bond."
[excerpt] 'She was a woman with an incredible heart who really put herself out there to help people'
They each realized that the only way they were going to survive was to accept life on its own terms and let go of old dreams. "You can mourn and grieve, but if you get stuck on, 'I wish it was this way,' you can never move forward," Dana once reasoned.
Together they fought not only to improve Christopher's condition - he was determined to walk again - but to help others as well. They tirelessly campaigned for stem-cell research, lobbied for better insurance protection against catastrophic injury for those with fewer resources, and generously funded research. All the while they tried to maintain as "normal" a family life as possible. Dana once admitted that while Will was their greatest, blessing, he was also their greatest source of sadness. "Chris wants to be' Out playing basketball with him, giving him hugs," Dana said when Will was five years old.
After his father died, Dana spoke of Will's maturity, explaining: "I think he can trust that life has a lot of joy and laughter even amid pain and hardship. It's a life lesson I wouldn't have wished on him, but at the same time, he has coping skills that I think a lot of 12year-olds might not have." Those skills have sadly been put to the test once more as Will copes with what must seem like an arbitrarily cruel life.
In a tragic irony, the only time Dana wasn't by her husband's side was when he fell fatally ill from an infection resulting from a pressure wound. She was in Los Angeles rehearsing for a show when she got the call that Christopher had fallen into a coma. She caught the next flight home.
"It was a bizarre feeling because, in every other instance, I was right there and able to act and be part of it and to question nurses, doctors, whatever. I was much happier being there. It was hell being so far away." Finally arriving home, she thanked the medical staff for, "keeping his body living so that I could say goodbye and so that Will could say goodbye".
But even after his death, Christopher remained an inspiration for Dana. "Now, more than ever, I feel Chris with me as I face this challenge," she said after she was diagnosed last year. "As always, I look to him as the ultimate example of defying the odds with strength, courage and hope in the face of life's adversities."
And these are the very qualities for which she, too, will be best remembered.