U.S. Representative and civil rights icon John Lewis announced on Sunday evening that he has stage IV pancreatic cancer.
According to a statement on Lewis’s official website, the cancer was discovered during a routine medical examination. Lewis, 79, says he will continue to serve in office for as long as he can. “I have been in some kind of fight—for freedom, equality, basic human rights—for nearly my entire life,” he wrote in the statement. “I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now.”
Survival rates for pancreatic cancer—which Jeopardy host Alex Trebek is also currently fighting—are extremely low, especially at stage IV. The Washington Post reports that about one percent of patients live five years after diagnosis, and that the average patient lives for only one year. But Lewis, who represents Georgia’s fifth Congressional District, says he is optimistic:
While I am clear-eyed 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.
So 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.
Lewis has served in Congress since 1987. Prior to taking office, he was a fixture in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, taking Freedom Rides in an effort to de-segregate interstate buses and serving as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, where he organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, in addition to other non-violent boycotts and protests. He was beaten and arrested dozens of times in the pursuit of equal rights, and has been arrested at least five times as a Congressman, all while protesting human rights violations.
Lewis plans to return to Washington “in the coming days,” where he will begin treatment.
“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. “Please keep me in your prayers as I begin this journey.”