Jimmy Carter, rebuilding after cancer

Story highlights

  • Jimmy Carter announced in August 2015 that he had cancer
  • This August, he was building a Habitat for Humanity home in Memphis

(CNN)President Jimmy Carter wasn't too sure he would be in Memphis this year for Habitat for Humanity's 33rd Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project.

Just one year ago, the former president announced that he had cancer that had spread to his brain.
    "We didn't know of any treatment for that type of cancer, so I thought I had just a few weeks to live," Carter said Tuesday.
    Former President Jimmy Carter, center, works on a Habitat for Humanity construction project in Memphis.
    Working on a Habitat project in Memphis last year, he told everyone he would be back.
    "But I wasn't sure I would be back or not," Carter said. "But luckily, here I am."
    Doctors treated Carter with pembrolizumab, a drug that works by revving up a patient's own immune system to kill cancer. By December, MRI scans no longer showed any signs of cancer.
    "We still monitor my health every now and then," Carter said.

    At home with a hammer and saw

    This week, along with his wife, Rosalynn, the 91-year-old is helping build homes just north of Uptown Memphis.
    Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, work in Memphis.
    Carter wore a tool belt, a hard hat and a red bandana around his neck to soak up the sweat. He looked equally comfortable with a hammer or a circular saw.
    "I'm a furniture builder, first of all," Carter said. "I have my own shop at home, and I build very advanced, very nice furniture."
    The president is working alongside the future homeowners, who will end up putting in 300 to 500 hours of work on the home.
    "We don't give away anything except a lot of love and care and concern," Carter noted. "The homeowner, family, has to pay full price for the cost of their house."

    'Nobody works harder'

    Country singers and spouses Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood were working on the same job site.
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    "It's harder than hell working alongside them, to tell you the truth," Brooks said of the Carters.
    "Nobody works harder," Yearwood said. "They lead by example, you know, and they really do work."
    The Carters started working with Habitat for Humanity soon after leaving the White House. In 1984, the couple started their first national work project for the organization.
    "It's a practical way to put my religious beliefs into practical use," he said. "We talk about rich people helping poor people in need and so forth, and this is the best way I know of to cross that very difficult chasm between rich people and people who have never had a decent place to live."