U.S. Rep. John Lewis, 79, cast his first vote Thursday on the House floor since he announced he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer in December. In a statement he put out at the time of his diagnosis, he said he hoped to miss as little work as possible.Read More
— WSB-TV (@wsbtv) January 10, 2020
Lewis is a beloved figure who brings gravitas and moral weight to his role as dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. Elected to Congress in 1986, this is his 17th term in the House.
The son of sharecroppers, Lewis became a nationally recognized leader in the Civil Rights movement. At the age of 23, he was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in August 1963. He was also a leader in the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., during which police assaulted marchers as they protested the suppression voting rights for African Americans.
Rep. John Lewis’s Cancer Journey
In his statement, the 79-year-old also said that while he was “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,” Lewis said.
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. https://t.co/XVcbTlsNNv
— John Lewis (@repjohnlewis) December 30, 2019
There of course has been an outpouring of support. “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek, who is also 79 years old and undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer, recently told the Associated Press about himself and Lewis, “We’re starting a new year, and let’s see if we can’t both complete the year as pancreatic cancer survivors.”
And social media has been flooded with well wishes.
— Tim Smyth @ #EdCampHAT (@historycomics) January 9, 2020
Even elected officials around the country have joined in the groundswell of support.
Proud to be a part of the prayer vigil supporting Congressman John Lewis. Congressman Lewis is a trailblazer and history maker in his pursuit of civil rights and fighting for all Americans in Congress. My prayers go with him as he fights against stage IV pancreatic cancer. pic.twitter.com/cGzD74osQQ
— Andy Schor (@andyschor) January 8, 2020
Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer
Unfortunately, late stage diagnoses like Lewis’ are relatively common for pancreatic cancer, which means that the disease has often become really difficult to treat by the time it is diagnosed. Screening is a major issues because the disease often doesn’t present any symptoms until it has advanced and spread outside of the pancreas.
“Because the pancreas is inside the abdomen, it often doesn’t have symptoms that would tell you that something is wrong with your pancreas,” Dr. Anirban Maitra, co-leader of Pancreatic Cancer Moon Shot at MD Anderson Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview.
“By the time individuals walk into the clinic with symptoms like jaundice, weight loss, back pain, or diabetes, it’s often very late in the stage of the disease. Each year in the United States, about 53,000 patients get pancreatic cancer, and unfortunately, most will die from this disease within a few months to a year or so from the diagnosis.”
Dr. Maitra pointed out that a large issue lies in screening methods, which unfortunately, still need to be improved. Testing everyone for the disease, Dr. Maitra said, would lead to too many false positives.