We are today more comfortable as a society talking about death. This became evident when former President Jimmy Carter revealed that he has cancer that has spread to his brain. When he was informed, on August 3, that he has melanomas that spread to his brain, he thought that he had only a few weeks to live. “But I was surprisingly at ease,” Carter said, revealing how his Christian faith influenced his views on life and death.
Mr. Carter said that he began to feel unwell in May, while monitoring elections in Guyana. He returned to Atlanta, where doctors at Emory University noticed a mass on his liver. Doctors, he said, told him that the mass was “slow growing,” so he delayed the surgery to remove it until he completed a tour promoting his latest book, “A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety,” which vividly describes his boyhood on a Depression-era farm outside tiny Plains, Ga., his career as a naval officer, and his rise to the peak of American politics.
After the Aug. 3 procedure, which Mr. Carter’s office at the time described as “elective,” doctors concluded that the cancer was also in the former president’s brain.
“At first, I felt that it was confined to my liver and the operation had completely removed it, so I was quite relieved,” he said. “And then that same afternoon, we had an M.R.I. of my head and neck, and it showed up that it was already in four places in my brain. So I would say that night and the next day, until I came back up to Emory, I just thought I had a few weeks left.
“But I was surprisingly at ease,” Mr. Carter added. “I’ve had a wonderful life, I’ve had thousands of friends, and I’ve had an exciting and adventurous and gratifying existence.”
Mr. Carter said that he had so far faced minimal discomfort and that his cancer had not spread to his pancreas, a point of particular concern because Mr. Carter’s father and three siblings all died of pancreatic malignancies.
He said he signed on for the treatment without a moment’s hesitation. “Now I feel that it’s in the hands of God,” he said.President Carter says in the same press conference that he will also leave it to his doctors. I can’t say I don’t like his attitude and his mix of gratitude and fighting spirit: I do. I tried to do the same when I was handed a diagnosis of cancer (December 2012), but I might have had more of one than the other. It seems to me that Pres. Carter exhibits much greater grace and gratitude than I did. I do have some regrets; and there is more that I would like to accomplish.
Even so, this gets me thinking about what is important and essential to a good life, and how to achieve it, if “achieve” is indeed the right word. Such an achievement is not of the material kind. It might well be that a life devoted to giving and focused on grace is the best way to have little regrets and help prepare for the end of life, which eventually visits us all. From what I have read about the man, this describes Pres. Carter’s life, and there is much to recommend it. Forgiveness is also important, both the giving and acceptance of it.
I hope that I am not being in any way presumptuous here. Perhaps, all ex-presidents should take note of how Carter decided to live his life after leaving higher office. His list of accomplishments are worthy. Like many others worldwide, I wish President Carter success in his treatments, and a full recovery.
For more, go to [NYT]