Dana Reeve, 44, shocked friends and fans of her husband, who died in October last year, by announcing yesterday that she has been diagnosed with lung cancer. She had decided to make her illness known to the public, she said, because rumours about her health were beginning to circulate in the American media.
"I have recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, and am currently undergoing treatment," Ms Reeve said in a prepared statement. "I have an excellent team of physicians, and we are optimistic about my prognosis.
"Now, more than ever, I feel that Chris is with me as I face this challenge. 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."
After his riding accident in 1995, which paralysed him from the neck down, Reeve became a powerful advocate for those with serious spinal cord injuries. With Dana constantly at his side, he lobbied Congress and the White House to loosen restrictions on stem-cell research which he believed could lead to a cure for paralysis. He also managed, to a limited degree, to revive his acting career.
Ms Reeve, who is also an actress, is the chairwoman of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, which helps fund research into paralysis as well as programmes to improve the lives of those rendered immobile by accidents like her husband's. Over the years, it has distributed $55m in research grants and $7.5m for quality of life programmes.
She has reportedly never been a smoker. Since her husband's death, she has been a single mother to the son they had together, Will, who is 13. Earlier this year, her mother died from ovarian cancer.
"My family and I deeply appreciate the care and concern of our friends and supporters and trust that everyone understands our need and desire for privacy during this time," Ms Reeve said.
Campaigners for lung cancer research said they hoped Reeve's announcement would raise awareness and funding into anecdotal reports from doctors that it is affecting increasing numbers of non-smoking, younger women.
Ten to 15 per cent of lung cancer victims are non-smokers and non-smoking women twice as likely to get it as men who don't smoke. Radon gas, passive smoking, genetics and pollution are some of the causes among non-smokers.
Regina Vidaver, executive director of Women Against Lung Cancer said the disease receives 10 times less funding per death than breast cancer in the US yet it kills almost twice as many women as breast cancer.