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Jimmy Carter 'Completely At Ease' Despite Cancer Diagnosis


The man often described as the most successful former president of the United States spoke today for 40 minutes about his health at a news conference. Jimmy Carter, who left office almost 35 years ago after a difficult single term, had recently been diagnosed with melanoma. Today he met with reporters to say the cancer has now been found in his brain. Joining us to talk about the event is NPR's Linda Wertheimer. Hi, Linda.


SIEGEL: The president began his event today with this.


JIMMY CARTER: I'll get my first radiation treatment for the melanoma in my brain this afternoon. And then I understand I'll have four treatments scheduled at three-week intervals.

SIEGEL: Linda, that's obviously a very difficult prognosis. How did the former president seemed to you at this event?

WERTHEIMER: Well, you know, he arrived in blue jeans and a blue blazer looking cheerful, maybe he looked little sleepy. He talked very frankly. I must say that it was like talking to an elderly relative who sits down and says now I don't want you to worry about this. I don't want you to be upset and then launches into a fairly specific talk about what is happening.

SIEGEL: For a former president, would this be the first news conference of this sort, ever, do you think?

WERTHEIMER: Remember we had Lyndon Johnson who showed us a scar. We had Ronald Reagan's doctor speaking very clearly and fully about what - how he was injured when he was - when he was...

SIEGEL: Shot, yeah.

WERTHEIMER: ...Shot, but the one that - but, you know, we never heard anything about Ronald Reagan's dementia. And he never spoke about it. His close personal friends never spoke about it. And we didn't really even expect anyone to. So here's the president. He says as soon as he has the facts, Jimmy Carter said, he shared them.

SIEGEL: And of course he got the inevitable questions from reporters about how he feels about what's happening. And let's listen to his answer.


CARTER: And I was pleasantly surprised that I didn't go into an attitude of despair or anger or anything like that. I was just completely at ease. But I've just been very grateful for that part of it. So I'm ready for anything and looking forward to a new adventure.

SIEGEL: President Carter is 90, Linda, soon-to-be 91. He has had a very long post-presidency. He's written something like two dozen books over that time. He's been active in everything from Habitat for Humanity to anti-disease campaigns, peace initiatives. Did he talk today about his time as president?

WERTHEIMER: He talked about the presidency as the pinnacle of his political career. He said it was glorious. But then he went on to say that his marriage of 69 years, 69 years, to Rosalynn Carter was the most important part of his life. And then he said that the work with The Carter Center in the period after The White House is the best thing that he's done.


CARTER: We've had programs in 80 different countries on Earth for the poorest and most destitute. And that has been, I'd say, far more gratifying.

SIEGEL: He mentioned relations between Israel and its neighbors. The most important accomplishment of his presidency was probably the agreement between Israel and Egypt at Camp David. But he was discouraging about prospects for improvement. Here's what he had to say about that.


CARTER: Right now I think the prospects are more dismal than any time I remember in the last 50 years. It's practically - the whole process is practically dormant.

WERTHEIMER: Robert, that was the most negative thing that he said. For almost all of today's news conference, he was affable. He was even sweet. And he ended the conversation with reporters saying that any other questions they might have, they could direct to his doctor, who was right over there. And then he just stood up, and he kind of waved. And he said "I'm leaving."

SIEGEL: (Laughter) That's NPR's Linda Wertheimer. Linda, thank you.

WERTHEIMER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.