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Civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis diagnosed with Stage IV cancer

Lewis said that with medical advances, doctors said he has 'a fighting chance' and that he will return to Washington.

ATLANTA — Rep. John Lewis will be undergoing a treatment for Stage IV pancreatic cancer, his office confirmed on Sunday evening.

According to his press office, Lewis recently learned from doctors that he must undergo treatment for the cancer. He released a statement regarding his prognosis and "plans to continue to serve the people of the 5th Congressional District of Georgia."

“I have been in some kind of fight – for freedom, equality, basic human rights – for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now," Lewis said. "This month in a routine medical visit, and subsequent tests, doctors discovered Stage IV pancreatic cancer. This diagnosis has been reconfirmed."

He added that while he is "clear-eyed" about the prognosis, doctors said that medical advances have made the type of cancer treatable and that "treatment options are no longer as debilitating as they once were."

"And that I have a fighting chance," he added.

Lewis also shared a message for his constituents.

"I will return to Washington in coming days to continue our work and begin my treatment plan, which will occur over the next several weeks," he wrote. "I may miss a few votes during this period, but with God’s grace I will be back on the front lines soon."

Lewis, a longtime member of the House of Representatives, is as well known for his roles during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

A biography in "Roll Call" magazine reports that Lewis was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and soon joined the movement.

He volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides and risked his life in the process. He was also beaten and arrested while protesting Jim Crow segregation in the South.  Lewis was there during one of the most pivotal points in the Civil Rights Movement, known as "Bloody Sunday" as he and roughly 600 other people crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965.

Many demonstrators, including Lewis, were violently beaten by state troopers who attempted to stop the voting rights march from Selma, Alabama to the state's capital.

The moment helped hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church said he was sad to learn of Lewis's diagnosis.

"John Lewis is a fighter and we will be praying for him as he faces yet another adversary with the grace and courage that we come to expect from John Lewis," he told 11Alive News.

In a tweet, Governor Brian Kemp described Rep. Lewis in much the same way.

"John Lewis has always been a fighter and I know he will approach this challenge the same way: with passion, grit, and determination," he wrote adding that he and Georgia First Lady Marty Kemp were praying for him.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also responded to the news adding that she was praying for him following his diagnosis.

"John, know that generations of Americans have you in their thoughts & prayers as you face this fight," she wrote. "We are all praying that you are comfortable. We know that you will be well."

She and Lewis recently shared a podium during the passage of a House Bill which aims to reinstate the core of the voting rights act his actions helped secure decades earlier.

Past President Bill Clinton showing hope for the longtime representative.

"If there’s anyone with the strength and courage to fight this, it’s you, John," he wrote. "Hillary and I love you, and we join with millions of other Americans in praying for you and your family." 

He was joined later by former President Barack Obama who also sent words of encouragement.

"If there’s one thing I love about @RepJohnLewis, it’s his incomparable will to fight," Obama said. "I know he’s got a lot more of that left in him. Praying for you, my friend."

Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter Bernice King also responded to the diagnosis by saying that she is praying for him and "encouraged by the knowledge that he is a legendary fighter."

Tributes from politicians, past presidents and members of the civil rights community were plentiful. But one from a U.S. Senator from Georgia battling a condition of his own may be among the most appreciated.

Johnny Isakson, who has Parkinson's disease, recently gave his farewell address from the Senate floor and was met with kind words and a hug from Lewis.

"Praying for my friend, @repjohnlewis as he begins his fight against cancer," Isakson said. "They don’t make them stronger or braver, and I’m confident he will take on this challenge as he has every other he’s faced: with courage and determination fueled by his strong faith."

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