Rep. John Lewis announced Sunday he has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The 79-year-old said the diagnosis came during a “routine medical visit and subsequent tests.”
In a statement, the civil rights icon said, “While I am clear-eyed about the prognosis, doctors have told me that recent medical advances have made this type of cancer treatable in many cases, that treatment options are no longer as debilitating as they once were, and that I have a fighting chance.”
Better treatments have become available recently for this often fatal disease. But pancreatic cancer is diagnosed in African Americans more often than in other racial/ethnic groups in the United States. And we are more likely than other groups to die from the disease.
“Pancreatic cancer is a cancer that is often ‘silent.’ The symptoms can be subtle, and routine blood work may trigger an alarm,” said Dr. Sanjay Reddy, an assistant professor at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, in a statement. “In the case of Rep. John Lewis, it was at a routine visit, per the report, that his condition was discovered. One of the most important things to understand is that there are treatment options available. Even for those battling with stage 4 cancer … Through family support, medical advances and self-determination, we can control this disease and provide good quality of life.”
Lewis, a Democrat who has served Georgia’s 5th Congressional District since 1987, promised to fight, referring to the various battles he has faced throughout his life.
“I have been in some kind of fight—for freedom, equality, basic human rights—for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now,” he said.
Following his announcement, there was an outpouring of support for him online, including tweets from former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.