Rep. John Lewis has Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, the Democratic congressman and civil-rights icon who has represented Georgia’s 5th District since 1987 announced on Sunday.
“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,” Lewis, 79, said in a statement.
Although the survival rate for pancreatic cancer is low (approximately three percent according to the American Cancer Society), Lewis says doctors have told him about advances in treatment that give him a “fighting chance.”
“While I am cleareyed 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,” said Lewis, who will continue to serve in Congress as he fights the disease.
The son of Alabama sharecroppers, Lewis was a pivotal leader in the civil-rights movement. At 21, he risked his life during the 1961 Freedom Rides, where he was beaten by police and arrested. At 23, as head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he gave a speech during the 1963 March on Washington. Two years later, he led the “Bloody Sunday” march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, that ended in police violence, including against Lewis.
During his tenure in Congress, Lewis earned the nickname the “conscience of Congress,” championing voting rights and gun control. He led a sit-in protest on the House floor in 2016, forcing Republicans to address gun control following the shooting at Pulse, an Orlando nightclub. He led another sit-in for immigration reform near the U.S. Capitol building in 2013 that led to his arrest, along with seven other Democratic members of Congress.
Well-wishes came flooding in after the beloved congressman made his illness known.
Former President Barack Obama wrote of Lewis’ fighting spirit: “If there’s one thing I love about [John Lewis], it’s his incomparable will to fight. I know he’s got a lot more of that left in him. Praying for you, my friend.”
If there’s one thing I love about @RepJohnLewis, it’s his incomparable will to fight. I know he’s got a lot more of that left in him. Praying for you, my friend.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) December 30, 2019
Speaker Nancy Pelosi touched on the congressman’s longevity and the lives he’s impacted: “[John Lewis], we are all praying for you following this diagnosis. John, know that generations of Americans have you in their thoughts & prayers as you face this fight. We are all praying that you are comfortable. We know that you will be well.”
.@RepJohnLewis, we are all praying for you following this diagnosis. John, know that generations of Americans have you in their thoughts & prayers as you face this fight. We are all praying that you are comfortable. We know that you will be well. pic.twitter.com/j7YMUGLPC2
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) December 29, 2019
Several other lawmakers and prominent figures who knew Lewis expressed their support as well.
My friend John Lewis has gone up the rough side of the mountain many times before and his battle with pancreatic cancer is no different. Our nation is praying for you, John.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) December 30, 2019
Rep. John Lewis is a great man and civil rights icon. I learned a lot from him on the Faith & Politics Institute pilgrimage to Selma in 2015. I am saddened to learn of his cancer diagnosis and pray for his recovery.
— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) December 30, 2019
Let’s all pray for the Conscience of the Congress, our beloved John Lewis pic.twitter.com/U7QNqkLduU
— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) December 29, 2019
To no one’s surprise, Lewis wrote of getting back to work and fighting in his statement: “I may miss a few votes during this period, but with God’s grace I will be back on the front lines soon. 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.”