Carter: I thought I had just a few weeks to live

MEMPHIS - Former President Jimmy Carter said Monday he thought he had just a few weeks to live during his battle with cancer a year ago.

But he’s still here, and clearly making the most of it.

“A year ago, I didn’t think I was going to live but two or three weeks because they had already removed part of my liver because I had cancer there,” Carter, 91, said Monday during a news conference at a Habitat for Humanity construction project here. “After that, when they did an MRI, they found four cancer places in my brain so I thought I just had a few weeks to live.”

In March, doctors told him the treatment for melanoma in his brain had been so successful they were halting it. And this week, the 33rd Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project goes on as scheduled. Along with his 89-year-old wife, the former president is leading some 1,500 volunteers in an ambitious five-day campaign that will build 19 homes in a low-income neighborhood near the city’s downtown. The project will also beautify 10 additional neighborhoods and help renovate homes for senior citizens as part of Habitat’s innovative “stay in place program.”

Any thoughts that the duo were slowing down and assuming figurehead status were dashed at precisely 6:58 a.m. Monday. That’s when the former president arrived, two minutes early, to lead a devotional service for the assembled volunteers. Summoning his well-honed skills from teaching Sunday School at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Carter exhorted the troops to use whatever talents they had in service to others.

“Even if you just have one talent, don’t underestimate it,” Carter said as hundreds of people in toolbelts and Habitat T-shirts munched on bagels and listened raptly to the Nobel Peace Prize winner. “Use it to the fullest.”

By 7:30 a.m., both Carters were hard at work spreading hay on a building site where a concrete foundation and stacks of boards were mired in mud following recent heavy rain. Volunteers included the Carter’s son, Chip, and married country singing stars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood. A few yards away, Kris Allen, who won Season Eight of “American Idol,” was discovering that he, too, had more than one talent: Hanging siding on another Habitat house under construction while stealing occasional glances at the former president and hoping he’d get to meet him at some point (spoiler alert: He did later in the afternoon, and couldn’t believe Carter knew his name).

As reporters assembled for a news conference, Carter laid out just one rule.

“Anybody who asks about Donald Trump will be disqualified from the occasion and will have to leave,” Carter said with a wide grin. “So, I just want to give that one premise for the question and answer period. We want to stick to Habitat, if you don’t mind.”

And they meant it. The former president said Monday that next year’s 34th Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project is already scheduled to take place in Canada.