By Chip Crews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Dana Reeve, who won nationwide admiration as she cared for her husband, Christopher, through nine years of paralysis that ended with his death last year, announced yesterday that she has lung cancer.
"I have an excellent team of physicians, and we are optimistic about my prognosis," Reeve, 44, said in a statement.
Reeve, an actress and a singer, said she was making the announcement "based on the imminent release of a tabloid article regarding my personal health."
Hers is the second lung cancer case to make headlines this week. Longtime ABC News anchor Peter Jennings died of the disease Sunday night.
In May 1995, three years into Christopher and Dana Reeve's marriage, their lives changed forever when he fell from a horse during a cross-country race in Culpeper, Va., shattering his first cervical vertebra and breaking the second. He emerged as a quadriplegic and quickly transformed himself into the nation's highest-profile advocate for the funding of research into spinal-cord injuries. His wife stood at his side, taking a much-noted role as caregiver, speechmaker and fellow activist.
At the time of the accident, Christopher Reeve had been a popular movie actor for the better part of two decades, but his unflinching response to paralysis won him admiration on a far wider scale. Dana Reeve also received her share of plaudits.
Christopher Reeve published a memoir in 1998. At that time he recalled in an interview that before he went into surgery after the accident he told his wife that perhaps it would be better for everybody if he just slipped away. She started crying, he said, promised to support his decision whatever it was, and vowed that she would be in it for the long haul.
"Then," he said, "she added the words that saved my life: 'You're still you. And I love you.' "
He took the book's title -- "Still Me" -- from that moment.
In a separate interview a few days later, Dana Reeve reflected on the public praises that had come her way.
"Both Chris and I have been lauded for our reactions to all this," she said, "which is very gratifying in one sense and bewildering in another. . . . I remember being stunned at the suggestion that I would somehow take off when this happened. . . . I took the marriage vows very seriously, as did Chris. You're there -- sickness, health -- I mean, really. And you don't take those vows until you can say it and mean it."
She reflected that day on what had been the worst time for her -- the days right after the accident.
"It's such a stark before-and-after -- the point at which our lives completely changed," she said. "It's so painful -- really, really painful -- that I only talked about it one time, to give Chris the details for the book. I don't think I can ever recount that again."
Christopher Reeve died in October of heart failure at age 52. He never achieved his goal of walking again, but the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, chaired by his wife, has distributed more than $53 million in research grants, according to its Web site.
A spokesman for the foundation said yesterday that neither Dana nor Christopher Reeve was a smoker.
In the years after her husband's injury, Dana Reeve resumed her career, singing, acting onstage and on "Law & Order," "Oz" and other TV series. She appeared at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in April at a salute to the Broadway musicals of the 1940s.
The marriage produced a son, Will, 13.
In yesterday's statement, Reeve displayed the kind of moxie her husband became known for through his years in the wheelchair.
"I hope before too long to be sharing news of my good health and recovery," she said.
Her closing thoughts were of him. "Now, more than ever, I feel Chris with me as I face this challenge," she said. "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."