Last year, Dana Reeve lost her Superman husband. Now, in a cruel twist of fate, Christopher Reeve's widow is battling lung cancer.
Reeve, who cared for her paralyzed husband for nine years up until his death on Oct. 10, 2004, said Tuesday that she decided to disclose her illness because of "the imminent release of a tabloid article regarding my personal health."
The 44-year-old actress, who serves as chairwoman of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, said she was optimistic about her odds of beating cancer and invoked her late husband's name as the role model she is looking to during the struggle.
"I have recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, and am currently undergoing treatment," Reeve said in a statement. "I have an excellent team of physicians, and we are optimistic about my prognosis."
"Now, more than ever, I feel Chris with me as I face this challenge," Reeve 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."
Lung cancer is the same type of cancer that claimed the life of ABC news anchor Peter Jennings on Sunday and is the leading cause of cancer deaths among American women.
Reeve, who does not smoke, is among an increased percentage of new lung cancer patients who have never smoked or have quit.
She recently canceled a July 13 appearance in Washington D.C. in support of stem-cell research because of "family reasons."
In her statement, Reeve thanked her friends and supporters for their care and concern and asked for privacy while she battles the illness.
"I hope before too long to be sharing news of my good health and recovery," Reeve said.
Robin Williams and his wife, who are close friends with the Reeve family, issued a statement wishing their "love and support to Dana and her family during this challenging time."
In the years following the 1995 horseback-riding accident that left the Superman star paralyzed from the neck down, Reeve, a stem-cell research activist herself, supported her actor-turned-activist husband's fight to increase spinal-cord research funding.
To date, the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, which funds research on paralysis and works to improve the lives of the disabled, has awarded $55 million in research grants and $7.5 million in quality-of-life grants.
"The thoughts and prayers of the entire Christopher Reeve Foundation team are with Dana and her loved ones during this difficult time," Kathy Lewis, president of the Christopher Reeve Foundation, said in a statement. "We are certain that Dana will tackle this challenge with the grace, courage, and determination that have become her hallmark."
Dana and Christopher Reeve wed in 1992, and Reeve gave birth to the couples' son, Will, now 13, that same year.
In his 1998 autobiography, Still Me, Christopher Reeve credited his wife for giving him the strength to carry on following the 1995 accident that left him on life support and ultimately without the will to live.
"Dana came into the room...I mouthed my first lucid words to her: 'Maybe we should let me go,'" the actor recalled. "She said, 'I'm only going to say this once: I will support whatever you want to do because this is your life. And your decision. But I want you to know that I'll be with you for the long haul, no matter what.' "
"Then she added the words that saved my life: 'You're still you. And I love you.'"
At the time of her husband's death, Reeve was performing in the Broadway-bound play Brooklyn Boy in California. Upon receiving word of his deteriorating condition, she rushed home to be at his bedside and gave up the role for the production's New York run.