Russell Einhorn/Splash News Online
10/29/2008 AT 02:40 PM EDT
Almost eight months after revealing he has pancreatic cancer
, Patrick Swayze says acting has helped keep his spirits up.
"How do you nurture a positive attitude when all the statistics say you’re a dead man?" Swayze, who stars in the upcoming A&E series The Beast
, asked in an interview with the New York Times
. "You go to work."
Swayze, 56, began filming the drama series in Chicago this summer. "I do find myself, at the end of the day, riding home sort of catching myself with a smile on my face," he said. "I'm proud of what I'm doing."
Though he is healthy enough to work, the actor (who credits his wife, Lisa Niemi, as a main support) admitted cancer has changed him. "It’s a battle zone I go through," he said. "Chemo, no matter how you cut it, is hell on wheels."
After losing weight battling his disease, he has regained 20 pounds with the help of "muscle-building shakes" and working 12-hour days, reports the Times
Swayze says his health crisis has inspired him to think about what he can do in the future. "I've made a pretty decent mark so far – nothing to scoff at," he said. "But it does make you think: Wait a minute. There’s more I want to do. Lots more. Get on with it."
See all of Patrick Swayze's PEOPLE covers
Stars open up about battling cancer on the covers of PEOPLE