Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga) is vowing to stand strong in the face of a “fight I’ve never faced” after revealing a life-changing health diagnosis this week.
The Georgia Democrat, 79, was flooded with sympathies and well-wishes after revealing his battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer on Sunday. Lewis, an activist and pivotal figure in the fight for civil rights, said the diagnosis was confirmed during a routine medical exam earlier this month.
“I’ve been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights— for nearly my entire life,” he wrote in a message to his constituents. “I’ve never faced a fight quite like this one.”
The longtime congressman said he plans to remain in office as he seeks treatment for the life-threatening disease, which affected an estimated 57,000 Americans this year, according to the American Cancer Society. It also accounts for about 7 percent of all cancer deaths.
While he’s expected to miss a few upcoming votes during treatment, Lewis remains hopeful that “with God’s grace, I will be back on the front lines soon.”
A chorus of support has roared in for the beloved lawmaker, with national figures and politicians from both sides of the aisle offering kind words and wishes that Lewis will beat the disease. Former President Barack Obama was among those who offered words of encouragement.
“If there’s one thing I love about @RepJohnLewis, it’s his incomparable will to fight,” Obama tweeted Sunday. “I know he’s got a lot more of that left in him. Praying for you, my friend.”
Senator and former presidential hopeful Kamala Harris issued her own statement on the news, saying, “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.”
Bernice King, daughter of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., whom Lewis marched and fought alongside during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, said she was saddened by news of his cancer diagnosis.
“I am praying for him and encouraged by the knowledge that he is a legendary fighter,” she wrote, adding: “Fight on, sir.”
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp was among many Republicans who praised Lewis’ dedication to always fighting the fight and getting into “good trouble.”
“I know he will approach this challenge the same way: with passion, grit, and determination,” Kemp said in a statement.
Lewis, who has held Georgia’s 5th District seat for over 30 years, rose to prominence during the fight for civil rights and was the youngest speaker at the historic March on Washington in 1963. As a freedom fighter, he and other activists were often met with violence, including the time he was beaten over the head by police during a march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery — a March 7, 1965, date now known as “Bloody Sunday.”
In 1986, he would become the second African-American to represent Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives, winning an Atlanta district seat he’s held ever since.
The beloved lawmaker said while he’s “clear-eyed” about the prognosis, medical advances in treatment of the aggressive disease are “no longer debilitating as they once were” and have left him feeling hopeful.
“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,” he said. “We still have many bridges to cross.”