Carter 'at ease' and ready for radiation treatment on cancer

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Former President Jimmy Carter Says Cancer Has Spread to Brain

ATLANTA (AP) -- Former President Jimmy Carter announced Thursday that his cancer is on four small spots on his brain and he will immediately begin radiation treatment, saying he is "at ease with whatever comes."

"I'm ready for anything and looking forward to a new adventure," said Carter, appearing upbeat and making jokes as he openly talked about his cancer during a news conference.

Jimmy Carter through the years:

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Jimmy Carter through the years
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Carter 'at ease' and ready for radiation treatment on cancer
Jimmy(James Earl) Carter as Ensign, USN, circa World War II. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)
American politician and US Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter holds a handful of peanuts (referencing his career as a peanut farmer) during a campaign event, Boston, Massachusetts, 1976. (Photo by Mikki Ansin/Getty Images)
American politician and US Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter (center) smiles after his victory in the Pennsylvania Primary election, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 27, 1976. Among those on stage with him are politicians Samuel L Evans (left) and Senator Birch Bayh (second left). (Photo by Mikki Ansin/Getty Images)
U.S. president Jimmy Carter smiling at a podium in front of an American flag, 1970s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
1976: A campaign button supporting the Democratic politician Jimmy Carter for President. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
Jimmy Carter on his peanut farm, Plains, Georgia, 1976. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)
Jimmy Carter (left) and Sen. Walter Mondale at the 1976 Democratic National Convention at Madison Square Garden. (Photo by James Garrett/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Photograph of President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter dancing at a White House Congressional Ball. Photographed by Marion S. Trikosko. Dated 1977. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
Jimmy Carter of Plains, GA, was the 39th President of the United States and a big fan of NASCAR racing. In 1978, Carter invited a number of NASCAR Cup stars to the White House for a big dinner and entertainment provided by country star Willie Nelson. Nelson was there and so were First Lady Rosalynn Carter and the President'€™s brother Billy Carter, but President Carter was nowhere to be found. The President had gone to Camp David to meet with the leaders of Israel and Egypt, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, in what ultimately would lead to a huge Middle East peace agreement known later as the Camp David Accords. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)
Jean-Paul II In Washington, United States On October 06, 1979)-John-Paul II, Jimmy Carter and Rosalyn at the White House. (Photo by Pool JEAN-PAUL II AUX USA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Photograph of President Jimmy Carter announcing new sanctions against Iran following the taking American hostages. Photographed by Marion S. Trikosko. Dated 1980. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter during Humanitarian Awards Dinner - November 23, 1987 at Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Gillian Sorenson and Jimmy Carter during Benefit Dinner Dance for the Homeless - November 18, 1988 at Plaza Hotel in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Musician Willie Nelson and former President Jimmy Carter at the taping of 'CMT Homecoming: Jimmy Carter in Plains,' which will premiere on CMT in December 2004. (Photo by Rick Diamond/WireImage)
ATLANTA - APRIL 22: Former President Jimmy Carter watches the game between the Philiadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on April 22, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
CAIRO, EGYPT - MAY 24: Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter addresses the media on the second day of Egypt's presidential election on May 24, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt. Carter Center election monitors observed the presidential election, the first of the post-Mubarak era. If no candidate wins an outright majority of the vote, the election would go to a second round June 16-17. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Former US President Jimmy Carter signs his new Book 'A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety' at Barnes & Noble on 5th avenue in New York on July 7, 2015. Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images
PASADENA, CA - JULY 30: President Jimmy Carter photographed at Vroman's Bookstore on July 30, 2015 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Paul Redmond / Getty Images)
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So far, the pain has been "very slight" and Carter said he hasn't felt any weakness or debility. Still, he will dramatically cut back on his work with the Carter Center and will give the treatment regimen his "top priority." His first radiation treatment was set for Thursday afternoon.

Carter, in a dark blazer, red tie and jeans and surrounded by friends and family, said at first he thought the cancer was confined to his liver. He thought an operation Aug. 3 had completely removed it, "so I was quite relieved."

But that same afternoon, an MRI showed it was on his brain.

"I just thought I had a few weeks left, but I was surprisingly at ease. I've had a wonderful life," the 90-year-old Carter said. "It's in God's hands. I'll be prepared for anything that comes."

He didn't give any prognosis, but spoke about receiving three months of treatments and left open the possibility of traveling to Nepal in November to build houses for Habitat for Humanity, a Georgia-based organization he has worked with for decades.

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Jimmy Carter Shares Details on Cancer Diagnosis

Carter's grandson Jason Carter said he hopes the former president spends as much time as possible with his wife, Rosalynn - and gets to go fishing.

"My grandfather is a remarkable person. This is not a eulogy in any way," Jason Carter said.

Carter said he found out around the end of May that he had a spot on his liver. He didn't tell his wife about it until June 15 and life went on as normal. He told no one, finished a book tour and had surgery to remove the small cancerous mass from his liver Aug. 3. Doctors believe they got rid of all the cancer there, Carter said.

It's still not clear exactly where the cancer originated, although with melanoma, he's told that 98 percent of the time it develops first in the skin. He also said that the rest of his body will be scanned repeatedly for months to come and that more cancers may show up elsewhere. The cancer spots on his brain are about 2 millimeters in size.

His father, brother and two sisters died of pancreatic cancer. His mother also had the disease. Carter, who had been tested for pancreatic cancer, said no cancer has been found there so far.

What the former president has, he said, is melanoma, and experts say his lifelong activities may have increased his risk for skin cancer. He lives in the South, is fair-skinned and freckled, and through Habitat for Humanity and travel, has spent a lot of time outdoors, noted Dr. Anna Pavlick, co-director of the melanoma program at NYU's Laura & Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center.

Carter said the radiation will focus on the tumors in his brain, and he has already begun receiving a drug - approved by the FDA in February - to boost his immune system. This combination doesn't produce the terrible side effects that people may have experienced 20 years ago, said the former president's physician, Dr. Walter Curran, executive director of the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.

"Any treatment can be tough at any age, but ... most people are able to go on with their regular daily life," Curran said. "Side effects include achiness of joints and bones, fatigue and irritation. Side effects from radiation can include headache and nausea. Some patients feel none of those."

Dr. Patrick Hwu, a melanoma expert at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, said the key immune system cells needed to attack the tumor can get into the brain, so the treatment gives Carter a fighting chance.

"Every patient is going to be different," he said.

President George W. Bush and Bush's father called him Wednesday, Carter said, and he has received well-wishes from President Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry.

"It was the first time they've called me in a long time," Carter said to laughter.

Later, Obama tweeted: "President Carter is as good a man as they come. Michelle and I are praying for him and Rosalynn. We're all pulling for you, Jimmy."

Carter's health has been closely watched this year. He cut short an election monitoring trip to Guyana in May. A spokeswoman said he did not feel well and Carter later said he had a bad cold.

Carter was the nation's 39th president, advancing as a virtual unknown on the national stage to defeat President Gerald Ford in 1976. But several foreign policy crises, in particular the Iran hostage crisis, crushed his bid for re-election and Ronald Reagan swept into the White House.

He said Thursday he still regretted not being able to rescue the hostages.

The native of tiny Plains, Georgia, rebuilt his career as a humanitarian guiding the center focused on global issues. Carter earned a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, helped defuse nuclear tensions in the Koreas and helped avert a U.S. invasion of Haiti.

He and his wife still make regular appearances at events in Atlanta and travel overseas. When the couple is in Plains, Carter frequently teaches a Sunday School class before services at Maranatha Baptist Church. He plans to teach this weekend as scheduled.

He and his wife have thought for many years about cutting back their work at the Carter Center, which he established in 1982 to promote health care and democracy. The center has a $600 million endowment and Carter will continue to help raise money as long as he feels up to it.

"We thought about this when I was 80," he said of cutting back at the Carter Center. "We thought about it again when I was 85; we thought about it again when I was 90. So this is a propitious time I think for us to carry out our long-delayed plans."

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