[WASHINGTON] Jimmy Carter, the former US president turned Nobel peace laureate and global humanitarian, revealed Thursday he has cancer on his brain but said he feels at peace and grateful for having lived a full life.
Mr Carter, 90, told a press conference that the finding of four melanoma spots stemmed from a procedure in which a tumor was removed from his liver this month.
The 39th president said that as his treatment continues, it is likely doctors will find cancer elsewhere in his body.
"They did an MRI and found that there were four spots of melanoma on my brain," Mr Carter told reporters in Atlanta. He said he would begin radiation treatment Thursday afternoon.
Melanoma usually shows up in the skin, but a small percentage of cases are internal, Mr Carter said his doctors had told him. It is a very aggressive form of cancer.
The former Democratic president sounded serene and in high spirits as he discussed his illness. He smiled often and joked with reporters in a Georgia drawl that is still pretty thick.
Mr Carter, a onetime peanut farmer who served one term in office from 1977 to 1981, is arguably better known for his decades of humanitarian work around the world since leaving the White House.
Physically, Mr Carter said he feels well and does not suffer from weakness or pain. He said he plans to carry on teaching Sunday school, and hopes doctors will let him go ahead with plans to travel to Nepal with Habitat for Humanity.
Mr Carter said he has received calls from President Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and both former presidents Bush.
"First time they've called me in a long time," Mr Carter quipped, drawing guffaws.
Mr Obama said he and his wife Michelle were praying for Mr Carter, whom he called "as good a man as they come." "We're all pulling for you, Jimmy," Mr Obama tweeted.
Mr Carter said that after doctors diagnosed the melanoma in his brain, he initially thought he was quickly nearing death, yet remained calm.
"You know, I have had a wonderful life. I have got thousands of friends and I have had an exciting and adventurous and gratifying existence," Mr Carter said.
"So I was surprisingly at ease, much more so than my wife was, but now I feel, you know, it's in the hands of God," Mr Carter said.
Mr Carter explained that in May, he had gone to Guyana in South America to monitor elections but fell ill with a bad cold and cut his trip short.
Doctors did a complete physical and detected a growth on his liver that might be cancer. In August, doctors removed a tenth of the organ - the growth did turn out to be malignant - and, suspecting it might have originated elsewhere, did an MRI and found melanoma on his brain.
Several ofMr Carter's relatives died of pancreatic cancer, but that tends to show up earlier in life. His melanoma is probably related to his light complexion and lots of time spent outdoors, said Jeffrey Schneider, an oncologist at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, New York.
Mr Carter's presidency is perhaps best known for the Iran hostage crisis, which saw 52 Americans held in Tehran for 444 days following the Islamic Revolution.
Mr Carter's failure to secure their release, compounded by a failed military rescue attempt, would dog his presidency and scuttle his bid for a second term.
Mr Carter was asked Thursday about the highs and lows of his life.
He said the best thing he ever did was marry Rosalynn, and that it was also an honor to have served as president.
Regrets? The hostage crisis.
"I wish I had sent one more helicopter to get the hostages and we would have rescued them - and I would have been re-elected," Carter joked, drawing more laughter.
Mr Carter's reputation is much stronger today than it was when he left office.
Brokering a peace deal between Israel and Egypt - the Camp David accords signed in 1978 - is now recognised as the zenith of his presidency and a major diplomatic triumph.
But his work after leaving the White House has also been widely praised.
He has been an extremely active ex-president, working as an elections monitor and lobbying for health campaigns via the Carter Center, which he founded in 1982.
Mr Carter received the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to promote social and economic justice.
Asked what he would like to see happen in the time he has left, Mr Carter said that in international affairs it would be peace among Israel and its neighbours.
As for the work of the Carter Center, he said it would be eradication of an ancient parasitic infection called Guinea worm disease, now confined to a handful of countries of Africa.
"I would like to see Guinea worm completely eradicated. I would like the last Guinea worm to die before I do," Mr Carter said.