Ailing Jimmy Carter ‘at Ease With Whatever Comes’


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Carter Discusses Cancer Diagnosis

The former president Jimmy Carter publicly talked about his health at a news conference in Atlanta on Thursday, eight days after he said that he had cancer.


By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS on Publish Date August 20, 2015.


Photo by Kevin D. Liles for The New York Times.

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ATLANTA — The 39th president of the United States walked into the crowded room on Thursday, slightly stooped at 90 years old, but nimble as a cat. He flashed the fleshy smile that once launched a thousand caricatures.

And then Jimmy Carter spoke, with the lilt of a South Georgia farmer and the pragmatic frankness of a seasoned executive, about the cancer that had been removed from his liver, but was more recently discovered in his brain.

He spoke about the innovative treatment regimen to combat the melanoma, which he began a day earlier and planned to continue Thursday afternoon.

And he spoke about the born-again Christian beliefs that some viewed as a potential impediment during his 1976 candidacy — but which were helping him now, he said, as he prepared for what was perhaps his life’s final contest.

“I’m perfectly at ease with whatever comes,” Mr. Carter said, speaking before the news media here at the Carter Center, the nonprofit dedicated to global health and democracy that he co-founded in 1982. “I do have a deep religious faith, which I’m very grateful for.”

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Jimmy Carter spoke Thursday about his cancer diagnosis.

Credit
Kevin D. Liles for The New York Times

The announcement, delivered with cool composure — and even the occasional joke — was a rare kind of public moment for a former commander in chief, affording Mr. Carter a chance to reflect on nearly a century of achievement, as well as a few regrets: Mr. Carter, who as president strove mightily to bring peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, said it seemed as though “the prospects are more dismal than any time I remember in the last 50 years.”

He also spoke of his disappointment in the botched effort, toward the end of his presidency, to rescue 52 Americans held hostage by Iranian revolutionaries in Tehran. The operation ended after three of eight helicopters failed; eight soldiers also died when one of the helicopters collided with a transport plane.

“I wish I had sent one more helicopter to get the hostages, and we would’ve rescued them,” Mr. Carter said, “and I would’ve been re-elected.”

Former presidents have generally chosen to make announcements about their health in writing, as Ronald Reagan did in 1994, when he disclosed that he had Alzheimer’s disease.

But Thursday’s news conference was in keeping with the tenor of one of the most remarkable post-presidential careers in American history: Since leaving the White House in 1981 after a single turbulent term, Mr. Carter, whose mother was a nurse in rural Georgia, has intimately shared the details of his life story in a series of books; doled out hyper-specific advice about diet, exercise and the foundations of a meaningful life; and guided the Carter Center toward astonishing public health achievements by battling diseases that have caused unspeakable suffering and sharing medical information that has saved countless lives.

It is unclear how long Mr. Carter may live. But his grandson Jason Carter, 40, said he hoped that the treatments would offer the former president more time to fish and watch his great-grandsons’ baseball games.

The younger Mr. Carter said Thursday’s announcement was typical of his grandfather’s penchant for being “completely honest and transparent,” and guided by “this deep and abiding faith, and courage, and analytical brain.”

“There’s no doubt that he’s confronting this chapter in that same vein,” said Mr. Carter, a Democrat who last year failed in his bid to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and become governor of Georgia.

Dressed in a sport jacket and bluejeans and watched intently by his wife, Rosalynn, who is three years his junior, the former president also announced Thursday that he would curtail his work at the Carter Center to receive four doses of intravenous medicine, with a three-week interval between each, and the radiation treatment on Thursday.

But Mr. Carter also seemed to be struggling to give up his near-legendary work schedule. He noted that he was hoping that the treatment regimen might allow him to travel to Nepal in November to work with Habitat for Humanity, the organization he has long supported.

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Former President Jimmy Carter in Atlanta Thursday after his news conference about his health, followed by his wife, Rosalynn.

Credit
Kevin D. Liles for The New York Times

Mr. Carter said that he began to feel unwell in May, while monitoring elections in Guyana. He returned to Atlanta, where doctors at Emory University noticed a mass on his liver. Doctors, he said, told him that the mass was “slow growing,” so he delayed the surgery to remove it until he completed a tour promoting his latest book, “A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety,” which vividly describes his boyhood on a Depression-era farm outside tiny Plains, Ga., his career as a naval officer, and his rise to the peak of American politics.

After the Aug. 3 procedure, which Mr. Carter’s office at the time described as “elective,” doctors concluded that the cancer was also in the former president’s brain.

“At first, I felt that it was confined to my liver and the operation had completely removed it, so I was quite relieved,” he said. “And then that same afternoon, we had an M.R.I. of my head and neck, and it showed up that it was already in four places in my brain. So I would say that night and the next day, until I came back up to Emory, I just thought I had a few weeks left.

“But I was surprisingly at ease,” Mr. Carter added. “I’ve had a wonderful life, I’ve had thousands of friends, and I’ve had an exciting and adventurous and gratifying existence.”

Mr. Carter said that he had so far faced minimal discomfort and that his cancer had not spread to his pancreas, a point of particular concern because Mr. Carter’s father and three siblings all died of pancreatic malignancies.

He said he signed on for the treatment without a moment’s hesitation. “Now I feel that it’s in the hands of God,” he said.

Dr. Walter J. Curran Jr., the executive director of the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory, said he could not speak specifically about Mr. Carter’s situation. But Dr. Curran described the two therapies as cutting edge. The drug, pembrolizumab, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration recently, he said, and is “showing promising results against melanoma.”

The radiation technique, known as stereotactic radiation, gives doctors the ability to tightly focus beams on each specific tumor. “Twenty years ago, any patient with that type of diagnosis would have received full brain radiation without much likelihood of durable benefit,” he said. Dr. Curran said that these new treatments allow “most people” to “go on with their regular daily life.”

Mr. Carter said that he was planning to do just that — to the extent that he could. On Sunday, he said, he planned to be back home in Plains to teach his previously scheduled Sunday school lesson at Maranatha Baptist Church.

When asked about a change in the world he would like to see, he mentioned the Carter Center’s success in eradicating the debilitating disease known as Guinea worm. According to the center, in 1986, when it began its Guinea worm eradication efforts, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases that occurred annually in Africa and Asia in 1986.

In 2014, there were 126 cases. But Mr. Carter said that was too many.

“I’d like for the last Guinea worm to die before I do,” he said.



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