Civil Rights Icon Diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer

By Sarah Garcia - December 30, 2019

Georgia Rep. John Lewis announced Sunday that he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

Cancer is not the first battle Lewis has faced. Known as one of the “Big Six” leaders to spearhead the 1963 March on Washington, he was instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement. In a statement, Lewis vowed to face this battle with the same determination:

“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.”

 “… I have decided to do what I know to do and do what I have always done: I am going to fight it and keep fighting for the Beloved Community. We still have many bridges to cross,” he added.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 57,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year. The disease accounts for 3% of all cancers in the U.S. and 7% of all cancer deaths.

Dr. Pamela Hodul, gastrointestinal surgeon

Moffitt Cancer Center gastrointestinal surgeon Dr. Pamela Hodul said the incidence rate for pancreatic cancer is increasing. “It has crept upward by about 0.5% annually for more than a decade,” she said. “It will soon become the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. in 2020 behind lung cancer.

The biggest problem, she said, is that pancreatic cancer may go undetected until it’s too late. “Because patients seldom exhibit symptoms until an advanced stage of the disease, it remains one of the most lethal malignant tumors,” Hodul said. “Despite advancements in the detection and management of pancreatic cancer, the five-year survival rate still stands at 9%.”

Lewis reported that he was diagnosed during a routine medical visit.

Noticeable symptoms of pancreatic cancer are not common when the cancer is in its early stages, but some symptoms may include abdominal or back pain, jaundice, loss of appetite, nausea and new onset of diabetes.

Lewis, who is serving his 17th term in congress, has promised to continue his work, stating that he will return to Washington in the coming days to begin treatment, which is expected to last several weeks.

“I may miss a few votes during this period, but with God’s grace I will be back on the front lines soon,” he said.

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