ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) -- Messages of support, prayers, and well-wishes are pouring in from across the world for beloved U.S. Rep. John Lewis. The United States Congressman from Georgia’s 5th District and longtime civil rights leader announced that he has stage four pancreatic cancer.
Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young is a friend of Lewis’. They met in 1960, when a much younger Lewis was helping organize sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville. Young said he called Lewis’ office Sunday and spoke with a top aide.
“When you say 4th stage pancreatic cancer, you are saying once again that you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. But he has done that all his life,” Young told CBS46’s Hayley Mason in an interview at his home. He says Lewis has been a fighter his entire life, growing up in segregation. Young said Lewis is equipped for this fight.
“He is not likely to get depressed and discouraged--he’s been through things that were more dangerous than this,” Young said. “I think it’s important for us to affirm his continued service because he needs to be in the Congress at this moment,” he added.
For Young, faith is leading the way for Lewis, who says he will stay in Washington, D.C. for treatment and continue to work.
“We have a number of patients who tolerate the therapy very well, and if you tolerate the therapy very well you are able to continue to work while getting treatment,” said Dr. Bassel El-Rayes, the leading medical oncologist specializing in pancreatic cancer at Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute.
El-Rayes has studied pancreatic cancer for more than 20 years. He explained that stage one pancreatic cancer is confined to the pancreas and that at stage four, the disease has already spread to other distant organs.
Dr. El-Rayes tells CBS46 that one of the biggest challenges with pancreas cancer is that the screening technology just isn't there, like with other cancers. It also spreads early on and the symptoms are not specific.
“Patients present with things like abdominal pain, weight loss, sometimes present sudden onsite diabetes,” said El-Rayes. “These symptoms are not very specific for pancreas cancer. So, sometimes patients come to the doctor with these symptoms and there is a lot of time spent trying to figure out what the cause is and there is a delay of diagnosis,” he added.
El-Rayes said that Lewis’ determined spirit will make a big difference.
“We see it everyday in the clinic, there are people who come in to us with fight and they are resolved to get better,” said El-Rayes. “They are resolved to do better. They are resolved to fight the cancer. They are determined to do much better than the people who come in feeling defeated or feeling overwhelmed.”
El-Rayes says that at stage four, surgery is usually not an option, medical therapy like chemo will be the most likely treatment. While a cure is not common at stage four, El-Rayes said, treatment can improve quality of life and extend life expectancy.
“I think his voice might be a littler weaker for a while, but I put him in President Carter’s class-- that he had brain cancer, he went to treatment, and a few weeks later he was building a house for habitat-- think that John is capable of carrying on,” Young told Mason. “He’s in good hands. He’s in God’s hands,” he added.