The Truth Behind How Long John McCain Was Actually Expected to Live With Brain Cancer
John McCain was at the center of politics in 2008 when he ran as the Republican presidential candidate against Obama. And with Trump’s many controversial policies, the spotlight comes back to McCain’s opposition from time to time. Since July 2018, however, reporters focused on McCain for a different reason: his cancer diagnosis.
McCain died from his rare and deadly form of brain cancer on August 25, 2018. Here are the details regarding his final days, and if he lived as long as he was expected to with his prognosis (page 5).
1. McCain had glioblastoma, a very rare cancer
McCain publicly announced his diagnosis in July 2017, and his hospitalization in December caused quite a stir amongst the media, AARP notes. The senator had glioblastoma, which is a particularly aggressive form of cancer that makes up about 15% of all brain tumors.
While other cancers will spread, glioblastoma doesn’t. It instead stays in the brain and deteriorates it, which can cause personality changes, seizures, and diminished mental capacity. Shockingly enough, this type of cancer is also on the rise and is more common in men over age 50.
Next: McCain stopped treatment shortly before his death.
2. He chose to stop treatment on August 24, 2018
McCain had become increasingly frail as cancer took its toll, but he received treatments for a year after his initial diagnosis that included both chemotherapy and radiation. Those around the senator were feeling positive regarding his recovery for months, and Senator Lindsey Graham said he was “very confident” McCain would continue to participate in politics “for a long time to come.” Unfortunately, TIME reports he made the decision to stop treatment on August 24.
In a statement, the McCain family said at the time that “the progress of disease and inexorable advance of age render their verdict. With his usual strength of will, he has now chosen to discontinue medical treatment.”
Next: This one thing also jeopardized McCain’s health.
3. The flu season threatened McCain’s health even more
The 2018 flu season was one of the worst — and for someone with a compromised immune system, this made him even more susceptible.
Azcentral.com reports McCain had to stay in Arizona for much of the winter due to the threat of the flu in Washington, D.C. His daughter, Meghan, remained optimistic through this time, saying he should be able to come back to the capital “at some point.” McCain wasn’t back to Capitol Hill since December 2017, however. Thankfully, he was still able to make one of his most iconic moves by voting against the repeal of Obamacare in July 2017 — a brazen gesture before his death he’ll be remembered for forever.
Next: Here’s how McCain’s mental health was doing before his death.
4. His daughter said his mental health was strong before his death
Due to the location of McCain’s cancer, it was expected for him to see some cognitive decline as it progressed. But according to his daughter, he was still as sharp as ever. Azcentral.com notes during a podcast interview, she said the two of them talked politics all the time. “But he’s very present,” she added a few months before his death. “Mentally, he’s 100% there.”
It’s important to note that McCain was also mentally stable during his decision to stop treatment as well, as his family noted it was, in fact, his choice to make.
Next: Doctors suspect McCain had this much time left to live.
5. McCain lived a few months shorter than the average person with glioblastoma
Since McCain was diagnosed in July 2017, that put him several months into treatment already. AARP notes the median survival rate for glioblastoma is 15 months. And only 10% of patients with this type of cancer live beyond five years. Newsweek says during a 60 Minutes interview, McCain comments on his survival rate. “Some say 3%, some say 14%. You know — it’s a very poor prognosis,” he says. “Now we’re going to do what we can, get the best doctors we can find and do the best we can.”
Since McCain was diagnosed in July 2017 and died in August 2018, he lived a few months short of the median survival.
Next: This is the same cancer that killed another famous politician’s son.
6. It’s the same type of cancer that killed Joe Biden’s son
When McCain received his grim prognosis, he saw solidarity from another politician — Joe Biden. The Washington Examiner reports Biden’s late son Beau had the same type of cancer McCain has. Unfortunately, the cancer took Beau Biden’s life. “John and I have been friends for 40 years,” Biden said. He also had confidence when he said, “He is strong — and he will beat this.”
Beau Biden isn’t the only famous person to develop glioblastoma, either. AARP notes Ted Kennedy and a number of Major League Baseball players also developed it.
Next: Here’s the scary truth about brain cancer.
7. Brain cancer numbers are on the rise
Brain cancer may not be on your radar the way other types are, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the signs and symptoms. This type of cancer occurs when there’s an abnormal growth of cells in the brain, says eMedicineHealth. While this cancer can develop in the brain itself, it can also start in other organs, then travel there via the bloodstream.
Treating brain cancer can be a complex process involving neurosurgeons, oncologists, and neurologists. Unfortunately, the symptoms are so numerous that most people do not know they have a serious disease. Headaches, muscle weakness, and clumsiness can all occur, but because they are so general, few people attribute them to cancer.
In 2017 alone, an estimated 23,800 new cases will be diagnosed and 16,700 cases overall will prove fatal.
Next: There are other famous politicians who have had brain issues.
8. Ted Kennedy brought a heightened awareness to the disease
When it comes to 20th and 21st-century senators, none were more high-profile than Senator Ted Kennedy. On top of being a member of an American political dynasty and serving the state of Massachusetts for nearly 50 years, Kennedy spent his final year publicly battling a brain tumor. Like McCain, he chose to work while battling the disease. He died in 2009 at age 77.
Next: This president had brain issues while in office.
9. President Woodrow Wilson suffered multiple strokes
While McCain ran for president several times, he never quite made it to the Oval Office. But a former president had serious brain issues while in office. Wilson suffered a series of strokes leaving him paralyzed in both legs and blind in one eye. After one stroke in particular, a year went by before Wilson could write normally again. Wilson’s wife and first lady, Edith, helped Wilson perform presidential duties. Unlike McCain’s very public battle, however, Wilson (and his entire administration) tried to keep his ailments a secret. He died from a stroke in 1924 at age 67.
Next: Will researchers ever find a cure for glioblastoma?
10. The future looks bright for glioblastoma patients
While standard chemotherapy and radiation are still the norm for treating glioblastoma, AARP notes the future’s looking brighter. Clinical trials are in place to test new vaccines, gene therapy, and viruses that may be able to kill the tumors. And a new therapy may be able to strengthen the patient’s immune system so it can attack the tumors. With the combination of helping the immune system and fighting the cancer cells, researchers are hopeful this is the key to helping patients live longer.
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