As cancer treatment begins, Carter to scale back on work

By Kathleen Foody, Associated Press | Posted - Aug. 21, 2015 at 5:30 a.m.

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ATLANTA (AP) — Former President Jimmy Carter says he will step back from his humanitarian work and surround himself with his family as he undergoes three months of treatment for melanoma cancer.

This weekend, relatives will gather in his tiny hometown of Plains, Georgia, to celebrate his wife's 88th birthday. He plans to teach Sunday School at his church, as he often does. And on Oct. 1, Carter will turn 91.

The former president was relentlessly upbeat Thursday, making jokes and flashing his wide smile during an open and honest 45-minute press conference about his cancer diagnosis and treatment. He said he was "ready for a new adventure" and felt his life's work was not done.

"Within the bounds of my physical and mental capability I'll continue to do it," Carter said. "But I'm going to have to give the treatment regimen top priority."

Carter served in submarines in the Navy and spent years as a peanut farmer before running for office, becoming a state senator and Georgia governor. His "plainspoken" nature helped Democrats retake the White House in 1976. On Thursday, he said he remains proud of what he accomplished as president, but more gratified by the humanitarian work he's done since, which earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

Carter's spirits only seemed to dampen when he expressed doubt about being able to participate in a home-building mission in Nepal this November with Habitat for Humanity.

Carter received targeted radiation therapy Thursday. It was aimed at four small tumors in his brain.

Earlier in the week, he received an injection of a newly approved drug to help his immune system seek out and destroy cancer cells that may develop anywhere else in his body. He will have that treatment three more times at three-week intervals, and there could be other radiation treatments, if needed.

Doctors also removed a small tumor from his liver on Aug. 3.

Jason Carter, his grandson, said that the extended Carter family already had plans to gather in Plains for Christmas this year. In the meantime, Jason Carter said he expects his grandfather to spend time with his wife and do a lot of fishing.

Carter's team at Emory Healthcare includes Dr. Walter Curran, Jr., who runs Emory's Winship Cancer Institute. Treatments for melanoma have improved tremendously recently, and Carter's prospects are good even at the age of 90, Curran said. But he cautioned against the idea that Carter can be "cured."

"We're not looking for a cure in patients who have a disease like melanoma that has spread," Curran said. "The goal is control and to have a good quality of life."

Doctors told Carter they had completely removed cancer from his liver during surgery on Aug. 3, but an MRI exam that same afternoon showed the spots on his brain. Carter said he went home that night thinking he had only a few weeks to live, but found himself feeling "surprisingly at ease."

"I've had a wonderful life," Carter reflected. "I've had thousands of friends, I've had an exciting, adventurous and gratifying existence. So I was surprisingly at ease, much more so than my wife was."

Carter didn't discuss his long-term prognosis.


AP Chief Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione in Milwaukee contributed to this report.

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Kathleen Foody


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