Even in Cancer Diagnosis, Jimmy Carter Shows Leadership

I’ll say the obvious right up front:  I have been very impressed with Jimmy Carter as a former president.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that he is probably the most effective former president that the US has ever had.  Through his work with the Carter Center to fight disease and to promote democracy, he has accomplished much for the world rather than simply sitting on boards of directors and becoming wealthy.

This week, I have seen a new reason to be impressed with former president Carter:  the grace with which former President Carter has announced his cancer and how he is dealing with it.  The announcement was followed by an outpouring of good wishes for him from the public.

I’ve decided to post several articles this week about President Carter and his cancer.  I was not sure whether the place to post articles and my reaction to them was here or on my cancer blog (cancerdaily.wordpress.com), but ultimately decided that this blog was the appropriate location because the subject is not my cancer.

Here is the initial article from the Washington Post about President Carter’s cancer this week:

Even in cancer diagnosis, Jimmy Carter shows leadership

By Jena McGregor August 20

Before Jimmy Carter sat in front of the microphones Thursday morning at the Carter Center in Atlanta to discuss his cancer diagnosis, some speculated the former president might use the moment to raise public awareness about the disease.
As a man who has a family history of cancer and has devoted his post-presidency to championing a vast array of complex causes, it made sense. The health-related news conference, itself an unusual move for a former president, could be the start of yet another area of advocacy for Carter.

But while such efforts may be yet to come, Carter’s news conference did not launch research initiatives or public platforms for cancer advocacy. When asked what message he had for others, there was no public-health speech for the masses.

Instead, there was simply Carter: gracious, smiling, honest, at ease. The 90-year-old former president spoke openly about his diagnosis—doctors have found four small spots of melanoma on his brain—and how he was feeling. He shared details about the medications his doctors were using and said his first radiation treatment would be Thursday afternoon.

He also shared the story of telling Rosalynn, how he plans to still teach Sunday School this weekend in Plains, Ga., and what he felt when he heard the news. “I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t go into an attitude of despair or anger,” he told reporters. “I was just completely at ease. … I’ve been very grateful for that part of that. I’m ready for anything.”

In doing so, Carter gave us yet another model for responding to a setback. A man who will be best remembered not for his presidency but for what he accomplished after he lost it, Carter has again demonstrated the resilience that has been a driving factor in his life and career.

He called his humanitarian work with the Carter Center more “personally gratifying” to him than his years in the White House and said, when asked about any regrets, that he wished he had sent one more helicopter in the failed effort to rescue the hostages in Iran.

With humor and a twinkle in his eye, he hinted at the globe-trotting, unrelenting pace he has kept up even as he approaches 91, which he will turn in October. “For a number of years Rosa and I have planned on dramatically reducing our work at the Carter Center. We haven’t done it yet,” he said to laughs from the audience. “We thought about this when I was 80. We thought about it again when I was 85. We thought about it again when I was 90.” With his diagnosis and treatment regimen, Carter said, the couple will “finally carry out our long-delayed plans.”

But mostly, Carter shared his gratitude. “I’ve had a wonderful life. I’ve had thousands of friends. I’ve had an exciting and adventurous and gratifying existence,” he said, crediting his deep religious faith. “Now, I feel this is in the hands of God.”

In Thursday’s news conference, Carter may not have talked about the importance of getting cancer screenings or better funding for research on the disease. But in his grateful, resilient response, the former president still had plenty to teach others.


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