Honoring John McCain
- Senator John McCain was a war hero turned politician who bravely battled both brain cancer and melanoma prior to his death.
- Throughout his brain cancer battle, Senator McCain focused on the theme of gratitude. According to his wife’s memoir, he spoke about gratitude for his political career, the bonds he made as a POV in Vietnam and his family shortly after his diagnosis.
- He died of glioblastoma in 2018, at 81 years old just one day after it was announced that he decided to "discontinue medical treatment."
- Glioblastoma is an aggressive form of brain cancer that, technically, has no cure. But one of our experts says a diagnosis does not mean there is no hope and new therapies are being researched.
- Melanoma is a kind of skin cancer that can develop from an existing mole or appear as a dark or pink growth on the skin even in places on the body that never see the sun.
- In addition to protecting yourself from the sun, never going into a tanning bed and consistently wearing sunscreen year-round, everyone should prioritize regular skin checks by a dermatologist especially if you have a high risk of developing melanoma.
Senator McCain died of brain cancer on Aug. 25, 2018, at 81 years old just one day after it was announced that he decided to "discontinue medical treatment." But prior to his death, he had quite a storied career.Read More
John finally signed a "confession" after five years of torture, but his legacy as a courageous war hero was forever etched in stone. Despite everything he had gone through in the line of duty, he later looked back on his time as a POW with the utmost appreciation for his country.
“It was in this time, he would later accredit to his love of country, stating ‘it wasn't until I had lost America for a time that I realized how much I loved her,'” the McCain Institute website reads.
That strong will and love for his country carried over to his political career. After settling in Arizona with his wife Cindy McCain, he won two terms in the House of Representatives and six terms in the Senate. John was a Republican, but he was known to compromise with Democrats. In 2004, he was even asked by Democrat John Kerry to be his vice-presidential running mate. He refused, calling himself a "a pro-life, deficit hawk, free trade Republican," but the ask was certainly a testament to his legacy as a “maverick” politician who wasn’t afraid to oppose the collective will of his party.
“McCain was hardly a stamped-from-the-mold politician,” an obituary from the Los Angeles Times reads. “At a time when the country grew increasingly tribal and partisan, he drew admiration and antagonism from both parties.”
John McCain’s Cancer Battles
John McCain found out he had a type of brain cancer called glioblastoma, or glioblastoma multiforme, in 2017. The diagnosis came after a routine checkup led to the discovery of a blood clot over his left eye.
“‘You’ve got to come back,'” John recalled his doctor telling him. “And I said, ‘Hey, today is Friday. I’ll just come in on Monday.’ And she said, ‘No, you have to come now. It’s very serious.’
“They thought it was serious enough that they had to act immediately.”
McCain was officially told he had glioblastoma after the clot was removed and tested. But being the determined public servant he was, a poor prognosis didn’t keep him from the Senate.
“They said that the prognosis is very, very serious. Some say 3 percent, some say 14 percent. You know, it’s… it’s a very poor prognosis,” John said. “So I just said, ‘I understand. Now we’re going to do what we can, get the best doctors we can find and do the best we can.’ And at the same time celebrate with gratitude a life well lived.”
Gratitude became a big theme for John during his glioblastoma battle. In Cindy McCain's memoir “Stronger: Courage, Hope & Humor In My Life With John McCain” she recalled a moving moment with her husband shortly after his diagnosis. The conversation they had centered around gratitude.
"He told me he was grateful that he had been able to serve his country in the Senate for three decades,” she wrote. “When he looked back to years of torture and imprisonment in Hanoi, he was grateful for the close friendships he had made with the other POWs. He felt gratitude to me and the children for the love and support and closeness we had shared for so long. I listened carefully. I had learned so much from John over the years. Maybe I could take this lesson too."
Glioblastoma is an aggressive form of brain cancer. According to Penn Medicine, symptoms of glioblastoma can vary depending upon the location and size of the tumor and many are related to brain swelling and increased pressure within the brain.
Symptoms of the disease include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Changes in personality
- Weakness on one side of the body
- Memory loss
- Speech difficulty
- Changes in vision
In addition, Penn Medicine says tumors in "eloquent" areas of the brain (vital functional areas) are likely to present with symptoms like difficulty with language, vision, or weakness. If you ever notice any of the above symptoms or grow concerned about changes to your health, don’t hesitate to see a doctor or a few! You never know when properly addressing an issue can lead to a crucial diagnosis.
Glioblastoma technically doesn’t have a cure, but there are many treatment options out there for patients to try. Those options include surgery, immunotherapy, chemotherapy and Gamma Knife® radiosurgery (a type of radiation therapy).
Clinical trials can also be a good option for some. Clinical trials are research studies that compare the most effective known treatment for a specific type or stage of cancer with a new approach. Enrolling in one may give you access to promising new therapies, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee you will receive the most effective treatment.
Regardless of a patient’s treatment path, it’s nice to know that progress is being made and research is ongoing.
"You are not dead just because you've been diagnosed with a glioblastoma," Dr. Henry Friedman, a neuro-oncologist at the Duke Cancer Center Brain Tumor Clinic, told SurvivorNet.
Dr. Friedman and his Duke colleagues are studying a glioblastoma therapy that combines the modified poliovirus with immunotherapy.
"The modified poliovirus is used to treat this tumor, by injecting it directly into the tumor, through a catheter. It is designed to lyse the tumor and cause the tumor cells to basically break up" he said. "I think that the modified poliovirus is going to be a game-changer in glioblastomaâ€¦ but I should also say that its reach is now extending into melanoma soon to bladder cancer."
In addition to brain cancer, John was also a skin cancer warrior. During his 2008 presidential campaign, he shared health records that revealed multiple bouts of melanoma.
Melanoma starts in the same cells that give your skin, hair and eyes their color. It can develop from an existing mole or form as a dark or pink growth on the skin even in places that never see the sun.
The risk of developing melanoma increases as people age with the average age of diagnosis being 65, according to the American Cancer Society, but the disease is not uncommon in younger people. In fact, melanoma is one of the most common cancers in young adults (especially young women).
"Melanomas are the deadliest type of skin cancer because they have a tendency to spread to other parts of the body," Dr. Anna Pavlick, a medical oncologist with Weill Cornell Medicine, told SurvivorNet.
Melanoma can happen to anyone, anywhere on the body. But some risk factors for the disease include:
- Being fair-skinned
- Having blond hair and blue eyes
- Having a family history of skin cancer
- Having multiple sunburns
- Having a weakened immune system
- Living closer to the equator or at a higher altitude
- Having dysplastic nevus syndrome (DNS), an inherited condition characterized by numerous atypical moles often thousands
- Having a prior history of melanoma
In addition to protecting yourself from the sun, never going into a tanning bed and consistently wearing sunscreen year-round, everyone should prioritize regular skin checks by a dermatologist. And it’s even more important you do so if any of the above risk factors apply to you. Skin checks are the best way to detect melanoma at its earliest, most treatable stages. At these appointments, you can also learn about measures you should be taking to reduce your risk of developing the disease based on your risk level.