Civil Rights Icon Dies at 80

By Sarah Garcia - July 18, 2020

Georgia Rep. John Lewis died Friday at age 80. The civil rights icon announced in December that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

Cancer was not the first battle Lewis 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 released shortly after his diagnosis, Lewis vowed to face his 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.”

 According to the American Cancer Society, more than 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 continued working while undergoing treatment, was first elected to congress in 1987 and continued to serve until his passing.

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