Rep. John Lewis gives first interview after pancreatic cancer diagnosis

Days after disclosing he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer, Rep. John Lewis is speaking out publicly about the diagnosis and his plans for the future.

In an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Georgia Democrat struck a positive, determined tone and indicated he has no plans to withdraw from his current responsibilities.

“It is a challenge and a fight. But I have had challenges before and been fighting all my life,” Lewis told the paper. “I am ready for the fight. I will go through the treatment and face the day each day like it is a new day. I will continue to be hopeful and optimistic.”

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U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a civil-rights icon, who was lambasted over the weekend by President-elect Donald Trump after Lewis questioned the legitimacy of Trump's election, speaks at the 5000 Role Models of Excellence breakfast at Jungle Island on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 16, 2017 in Miami. (Emily Michot/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) appears in a pre-taped interview on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Friday, January 13, 2017. (Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) appears in a pre-taped interview on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Friday, January 13, 2017. (Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 11: Representative John Lewis (D-GA) takes part in panel testimony during the second day of the United States Attorney General confirmation hearing for Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) at the Russell Senate Office Building on Wednesday January 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) appears in a pre-taped interview on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Friday, January 13, 2017. (Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) appears in a pre-taped interview on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Friday, January 13, 2017. (Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 11: Representative John Lewis (D-GA), center, speaks as Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), left, and Representative Cedric Richmond (D-LA) look on as they take part in panel testimony during the second day of the United States Attorney General confirmation hearing for Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) at the Russell Senate Office Building on Wednesday January 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Representative John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama and attorney general nominee for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, not pictured, in Washington, D.C. U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. Senator Cory Booker broke with tradition today and became the fist-sitting senator testify against a fellow senators nomination for a Cabinet post. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 19: Civil Rights icon Rep. John Lewis (GA-05) receives the the 2016 Liberty Medal from Jeffrey Rosen (left), President and CEO of the National Constitution Center Monday, September 19, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. According to the National Constitution Center, the Liberty Medal honors men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 19: Civil Rights icon Rep. John Lewis (GA-05) receives the the 2016 Liberty Medal from Jeffrey Rosen (left), President and CEO of the National Constitution Center Monday, September 19, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. According to the National Constitution Center, the Liberty Medal honors men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
Representative John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia, from left, speaks while standing next to Representative Joseph 'Joe' Crowley, a Democrat from New York, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, and Representative Charles 'Charlie' Rangel, a Democrat from New York, outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, June 23, 2016. Democrats closed out a marathon sit-in on the U.S. House floor Thursday afternoon after 25 hours of emotionally charged speeches demanding action on gun control, but they insisted their protests would continue in other forms. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 19: U.S. Representative John Lewis attends the Prayer Breakfast at the 45th Annual Legilative Black Caucus Foundation at Walter E. Washington Convention Center on September 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 19: United States Congressman John Lewis is honored before the game between the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on June 19, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
US Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia and one of the original Selma marchers, speaks during an event marking the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 2015. US President Barack Obama rallied a new generation of Americans to the spirit of the civil rights struggle, warning their march for freedom 'is not yet finished.' In a forceful speech in Selma, Alabama on the 50th anniversary of the brutal repression of a peaceful protest, America's first black president denounced new attempts to restrict voting rights. AFP PHOTO/ SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
(L-R) Former First Lady Laura Bush, First Lady Michelle Obama, US President Barack Obama and US Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, holds hands during an event marking the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, March 7, 2015. US President Barack Obama rallied a new generation of Americans to the spirit of the civil rights struggle, warning their march for freedom 'is not yet finished.' In a forceful speech in Selma, Alabama on the 50th anniversary of the brutal repression of a peaceful protest, America's first black president denounced new attempts to restrict voting rights. AFP PHOTO/ SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
(L-R) US President Barack Obama holds hands with US Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, alongside former US President George W. Bush during an event marking the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, March 7, 2015. US President Barack Obama rallied a new generation of Americans to the spirit of the civil rights struggle, warning their march for freedom 'is not yet finished.' In a forceful speech in Selma, Alabama on the 50th anniversary of the brutal repression of a peaceful protest, America's first black president denounced new attempts to restrict voting rights. AFP PHOTO/ SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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Lewis’ reference to overcoming prior challenges is one hell of an understatement. The 79-year-old rose to prominence as a civil rights organizer in the 1960s. In 1965, Alabama state troopers beat him in the head with a nightstick as he and 600 nonviolent protesters crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in what became known as Bloody Sunday.

He overcame a skull fracture and more than 40 arrests through the years. In 1986, he won a seat in the U.S. House, which he’s held ever since. He told the AJC he plans to seek reelection in 2020, though he acknowledged this latest fight will be less familiar than what’s come before. 

“As you well know, I will be going through something that I have never been through before,” Lewis said. “I have had friends and colleagues who have gone through similar situations. I will be talking and learning from them and obeying my physicians.”

Read the whole interview at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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