McCain: “Cancer doesn’t know what it is up against”

It’s unusual for political opponents to have affection for someone in opposition – but then American Senator John McCain is an unusual man.

In the States he is Vietnam War hero, when he fought as a fighter pilot.  Taken prisoner, he famously refused early release (offered for political reasons as his father was an Admiral) in front of other U.S. prisoners, and stayed on, being tortured mercilessly, for over five years.
He took up politics on his return, and in 2008 stood as Republican candidate for US President, losing out to the Democrat, Barrack Obama.
Now, the two political opponents obviously are big enough to be friends;  as soon as it was announced that McCain had cancer, Obama tweeted an affectionate message, saying “Cancer doesn’t know what it is up against”.
McCain comes from a family that produced leaders – men and women.  My parents were lucky enough to know John’s mother, Roberta, and I remember being told about her famously taking off for a long holiday in Europe when her son was starting his campaign for President.  She and her twin sister Rowena (in their 90s) announced they were fed up with politics, and took off for a long holiday around Europe.  Landing in Paris, they went to claim a booked hire car, only to find when the staff looked at Roberta’s passport, she was much too old to hire.  So they went outside, hailed a taxi, asked to go to the nearest car dealership, and bought a car for their travels. Roberta is still around – she must be about 106.
My parents used to holiday in Turkey with mutual friends, the Friendlys (he was the Washington Post Editor who famously ran the Watergate story).  The Friendlys were prominent Democrats, and breakfasts on holiday were ‘lively’ affairs, when Roberta (Republican) and the hosts would argue politics over the table, after reading overnight news reports from the States.  Prudent guests would breakfast in bed, and appear when things calmed down at elevenses.
I found out how revered McCain is when Roberta invited my Mother to Hawaii to see an Aircraft Carrier commissioning, when one was named after John’s father.  Flying home, the airline lost Mother’s luggage. When it came out whom Mother had gone to see,  the airline’s head in London personally headed the hunt for her luggage, and even negotiated a large compensation payment.

After McCain announced his brain cancer diagnosis, the senior senator from Arizona received a barrage of supportive. And McCain’s daughter Meghan posted a tribute on Instagram, saying: “Cancer may afflict him in many ways: But it will not make him surrender. Nothing ever has.”

There’s no denying McCain’s fortitude. It was on full display this past week, when he flew to Washington to cast a crucial vote against his party to block the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

Being Positive

Time and time again Oncologists say a positive mental stance gets a better outcome when treating cancer, but will this be enough to treat an aggressive malignancy such as glioblastoma ?  Only time will tell, but millions of Americans will be willing him on.

As a cancer survivor, I know there is no evidence to support the idea that personality can influence the growth of malignant cells. There is no cancer for which attitude can halt the progression of disease. And, glioblastoma remains lethal. Even with treatment, patients have a slim chance of living long with this condition; the five-year survival rate is just over 5 percent. Both Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and former vice president Joe Biden’s son Beau died within two years of diagnosis.

Still, as an American doctor wrote, “the words of support for McCain shouldn’t be written off as empty platitudes …. Language can be a powerful tool in medicine. As with physical remedies, there are potential harms and risks to consider, but potential upsides, too.

McCain has told his Senate colleagues that, after treatment, “I have every intention of returning here and giving many of you cause to regret all the nice things you said about me.”

And that spirit is what Oncologists like to see.

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