03/13/2008 at 01:10 PM EDT
The doctors on the other end of the line were calling with knee-buckling news for Patrick Swayze: a prognosis regarding his pancreatic cancer. But as the actor discussed his options during a conference call five weeks ago at his ranch north of Los Angeles, his brother Don Swayze was in awe. "I was looking in his eyes and I didn't see a flicker [of fear]," says Don. "I saw him think about it for like five seconds, and then he moved right into, 'Well, we've got a battle ahead of us.' You never really know what kind of soldier you would be until you're faced with the battle of your life. He's a warrior."
Swayze, 55, knows he won't face that battle alone: His wife of 32 years, Lisa, 51, will be by his side. "She really has been a rock," says her sister-in-law Dr. Maria Scouros, a Houston oncologist who is married to Lisa's brother Edmond. "She's there to support him through all of this." Whether keeping track of her husband's medications, pureéing special high-fat meals for him or flying him to his chemotherapy treatments at Stanford University Medical Center in Stanford, Calif. – like Swayze, she is a licensed pilot – Lisa, says Don, 49, "is a pillar of strength."
Her husband has never needed that strength more. Currently undergoing a four-week cycle of chemotherapy – coupled with the experimental drug Vatalanib to cut off the tumor's blood supply in hopes of shrinking it – Swayze is squaring off against a vicious cancer that claims 75 percent of patients within the first year of diagnosis. Despite the grim statistics, Swayze "has a very limited amount of disease and he appears to be responding well to treatment thus far," Dr. George Fisher, his oncologist, said in a March 5 statement. The doctor also told People, "We do have our successes with pancreatic cancer, and I think that each patient has the right to be hopeful and optimistic. But the sad truth is that there aren't as many [positive outcomes] as we would like."