Carter 'at ease with whatever comes'

Ex-US president being treated for melanoma on his brain, after surgery for liver cancer

Former US president Jimmy Carter arriving for a news conference in Atlanta to discuss his cancer diagnosis and treatment on Thursday.
Former US president Jimmy Carter arriving for a news conference in Atlanta to discuss his cancer diagnosis and treatment on Thursday.PHOTO: REUTERS

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

And then Mr 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 which he began on Wednesday to combat the melanoma. And he spoke about the born-again Christian beliefs which were helping him now, he said, as he prepared for what was perhaps his life's final contest.

"I am perfectly at ease with whatever comes," the former president, a Democrat, told the media at the Carter Centre, the non-profit 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."

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 neighbours, said it seemed as though "the prospects are more dismal than any time I have seen in the last 50 years".

He also spoke of his disappointment in the botched effort towards the end of his presidency to rescue 52 Americans held hostage by Iranian revolutionaries in Teheran in November 1979.

Eight soldiers died in the operation which ended after three of eight helicopters failed. "I wish I had sent one more helicopter to get the hostages, and we would have rescued them," Mr Carter said, "and I would have been re-elected."

Former US presidents have generally chosen to make announcements about their health in writing, but Mr Carter chose to deliver the news himself.

He said he began to feel unwell in May, while monitoring elections in Guyana. Doctors did a complete physical and found a growth on his liver that might be cancer.

This month, doctors removed a tenth of the organ - the growth did turn out to be malignant - and, suspecting it might have originated elsewhere, did an MRI and found melanoma on his brain.

Melanoma usually shows up in the skin, although a small percentage of cases are internal, Mr Carter said his doctors had told him. It is a very aggressive form of cancer.

Dr Walter Curran, executive director of the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory, has described Mr Carter's treatment as cutting-edge. The drug pembrolizumab shows "promising results against melanoma" while the radiation technique, known as stereotactic radiation, gives physicians the ability to tightly focus beams on each tumour, he said.

Mr Carter said he signed on for the treatment without a moment's hesitation, and that "now, I feel it is in the hands of God".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2015, with the headline 'Carter 'at ease with whatever comes''. Print Edition | Subscribe