With a broad smile and an upbeat attitude, former US president Jimmy Carter told the world on Thursday that he has cancer in his brain and feels “perfectly at ease with whatever comes.”
Carter said doctors had removed melanoma from his liver, but found four small tumors in his brain. Later on Thursday, he had the first of four targeted radiation treatments. He is also to receive more injections of a newly approved drug to help his immune system seek out and destroy the cancer cells wherever else they may appear.
Carter, the 39th president of the US, served in submarines in the US Navy and spent years as a peanut farmer before running for office, becoming a state senator and Georgia governor. His plainspoken nature helped Democrats retake the White House in 1976 in the wake of former US president Richard Nixon’s impeachment.
Wearing blue jeans and a blazer, Carter spoke with good humor and unsparing honesty, revealing that he had kept suspicions of cancer from his wife, Rosalynn, for weeks until the diagnosis was confirmed in June.
“Now I feel it’s in the hands of God, whom I worship, and I’ll be prepared for anything that comes,” he said.
Carter’s team of doctors at Emory Health Care includes Walter Curran Jr, who runs the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. Treatments for melanoma have improved tremendously and Carter’s prospects are good even at the age of 90, Curran said.
However, he cautioned against the idea that Carter can be “cured.”
“We’re not looking for a cure in patients who have a disease like melanoma that has spread,” Curran said.
“The goal is control and to have a good quality of life,” he said.
Doctors told Carter they had completely removed cancer from his liver during surgery on Aug. 3, but an MRI exam that same afternoon showed the spots on his brain. Carter said he went home that night thinking he had only a few weeks to live, but found himself feeling “surprisingly at ease.”
The former president did not discuss his long-term prognosis, but said he is to cut back dramatically on his humanitarian work while following the orders of a team that includes the world’s best “cancer-treaters.”
His treatment regimen is to include three more sessions three weeks apart. The tumors in his brain are to be blasted by concentrated beams of radiation and he is to get more injections of pembrolizumab, which was approved by the FDA for melanoma patients earlier this year.
“This is not a eulogy in any way,” grandson Jason Carter said, who is taking over as chairman of the board of trustees at the Carter Center, which promotes peace, democracy and healthcare improvements around the world.
Still, his grandfather’s responses to reporters often expanded into reflections on his life, faith and family.
“I’ve had a wonderful life,” Carter said.
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