John McCain Ceasing Medical Treatment

Sad news about a Senate stalwart who has been fighting an aggressive form of cancer for more than a year.

The family of Arizona Senator John McCain has announced that he is ceasing medical treatment, an obvious sign that his battle with cancer that began just over a year ago is coming to an end:

WASHINGTON — Senator John McCain of Arizona, who has been battling brain cancer for more than a year, will no longer be treated for his condition, his family announced on Friday, a sign that the Republican war hero is most likely entering his final days.

“Last summer, Senator John McCain shared with Americans the news our family already knew: He had been diagnosed with an aggressive glioblastoma, and the prognosis was serious. In the year since, John has surpassed expectations for his survival. But the progress of disease and the inexorable advance of age render their verdict,” the family said in a statement. “With his usual strength of will, he has now chosen to discontinue medical treatment.”

Mr. McCain had been undergoing treatment since July 2017, and has been absent from Washington since December. Mr. McCain’s family has gathered in Arizona, and people close to him say his death is imminent.

From his ranch in Arizona, Mr. McCain had managed to maintain a voice in key foreign policy and military policy debates, sharply criticizing President Trump after his summit meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, an old adversary of Mr. McCain. At home, he has welcomed close friends to renew ties. But after decades as a fixture in Washington and a larger-than-life character, he had largely retreated from the public eye.

More from Politico:

Sen. John McCain will discontinue medical treatment for his brain cancer, according to a statement released by his family.

“The progress of disease and the inexorable advance of age render their verdict. With his usual strength of will, he has now chosen to discontinue medical treatment,” the family said.

Diagnosed with the disease last summer, the Arizona Republican has been battling the condition in Arizona this year. McCain is not expected to return to Washington. A number of senators in both parties have visited him in Arizona, and well-wishes quickly poured in as the Senate began to digest that the war hero, six-term senator and 2008 GOP presidential nominee is in his final days.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who journeyed to Arizona to be with McCain earlier this year, said senators have been “fortunate to call him our friend and colleague.” McCain’s wife, Cindy, said: “God bless everyone who has cared for my husband along this journey.”

“May the prayers and affection of his country, and of friends around the world, surround John and his beloved family in these peaceful final hours,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)

“From Vietnam to the halls of the U.S. Senate, the spirit of service and civility that has guided Senator McCain’s life stands as a model for all Americans, regardless of political affiliation,” said Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R).

McCain has not voted in the Senate since 2017 and the Senate GOP has accordingly been hobbled by his absence, with just a 50-seat majority in Washington. If he were to resign or die, Ducey would appoint his replacement. McCain won reelection to a six-year term in 2016

The Arizona Republican has left a major mark on the Senate during his career, but particularly the last 18 months. He banded with two moderate GOP colleagues to stop repeal of Obamacare and has continued putting out statements criticizing President Donald Trump for his closeness to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The president’s relationship with McCain has been a particularly fraught one. Ever since Trump attacked McCain for being captured in Vietnam, the two have regarded each other icily and a number of Republicans have come to McCain’s defense. But Trump has continued to criticize McCain even as he fights a debilitating condition, singling him out repeatedly this summer for opposing repeal of the health care law.

Here is the announcement from McCain’s family:

Additionally, Jake Tapper shares what effectively amounts to McCain’s epitaph:

It was just over a year ago that it was announced that McCain, who has served Arizona in the Senate since first winning election in 1986 to succeed Senator Barry Goldwater. Before that, he had served in Congress since being elected to represent the state’s First Congressional District in 1982, had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Specifically, McCain was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer, and that the cancer was already in Stage IV by the time it was diagnosed. As such, it was clear from the beginning that McCain faced an uphill battle due both to the form of cancer he had and his advanced age. Even in healthy and younger people, the survival rate for this form of cancer is particularly grim, for someone of McCain’s age, the fight was obviously going to be more difficult. As with most cancers, the treatment for Glioblastoma involves a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, both of which have obvious and well-known side effects on even the healthiest of individuals. Additionally, McCain underwent at least two surgeries in connection with his treatment, although his family was understandably vague about what was involved in that surgery.

This battle with Glioblastoma wasn’t McCain’s first battle with cancer. We learned during his runs for the Presidency in 2000 and 2008, the Senator was diagnosed with and treated for malignant melanoma, a particularly difficult to deal with variant of skin cancer in the 1990s. By all accounts, that treatment was successful and there weren’t any reports about cancer reappearing in the intervening 23 years. However as NBC News noted in a post about McCain’s diagnosis, “incidences of gliomas were greater among melanoma cases than in people who had never been diagnosed with skin cancer.”  Bill Jempty wrote a piece for OTB about McCain’s bout with the disease during the 2008 campaign.

By September of last year, McCain had tacitly acknowledged this when he told reporters during one of his last visits to Washington that his prognosis was poor, something that was made rather obvious by the fact that his presence in Washington since the diagnosis has been limited at best and he has not been in town at all during the course of 2018. In April of this years, McCain seemingly confirmed where his condition was headed when he announced that, regardless of his health status, he would not be running for re-election at the end of his current term. This led many in Arizona to begin openly speculating about the possibility that McCain would step down from office, or at the very least that his seat would become vacant before his term is set to expire in 2022.

The form of cancer that McCain was diagnosed with also happens to be the same form of cancer that both former Senator Ted Kennedy and Beau Biden, the son of former Vice-President Joe Biden, were diagnosed with prior to passing away. In both those cases, the diagnosis seems to have come far too late for treatment to have any real impact on the spread of the disease. In Kennedy’s case, for example, the diagnoses came after he suffered a seizure in May 2008 and it led to him undergoing surgery followed by a course of chemotherapy and radiation treatments that had a severe impact on his health. As a result, Kennedy’s appearances back in Washington were limited, although he was able to appear at the Democratic National Convention that year and deliver a speech that he had to memorize since his impaired vision made it difficult to read a teleprompter. Kennedy also continued to push for the adoption of health care reform as Congress pursued that goal in the early years of the Obama Administration. Ultimately, though, Kennedy passed away in August 2009. Based on how quickly the disease has progressed, it would appear that the same is true for Senator McCain.

As was the case when he announced his diagnosis, the news about Senator McCain has led to expressions of sympathy from across the political world:

In any case, while the family statement does not disclose the current state of McCain’s health and does not explicitly say that he is entering hospice care, the course ahead is sadly too easy to see. However long he has left, one wishes the best possible for the Senator and his family and that his remaining days are as pain-free and peaceful as possible.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. grumpy realist says:

    As you come into this world, something else is also born. You begin your life, and it begins a journey towards you. It moves slowly, but it never stops. Wherever you go, whatever path you take, it will follow – never faster, never slower, always coming. You will run; it will walk. You will rest; it will not. One day, you will linger in the same place too long; you will sit too still or sleep too deep. And when, too late, you rise to go, you will notice a second shadow next to yours. Your life will then be over.

    –from Heaven Sent

    I just hope that John McCain dies without pain and without fear, surrounded by his family, with a good Scotch in his hand, a dachshund on his lap, and Bach’s Mass in B Minor in his ears. That’s how I plan to go.

  2. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Ha’makom yenahem etkhem betokh she’ar avelei Tziyonvi’Yerushalayim.

    I wish you peace, John.

  3. CSK says:

    Since I assume that Trump will insist on being the centerpiece of the funeral service, I hope the family publicly orders him to stay away.

  4. Gustopher says:

    He’s never been the maverick that he’s pretended to be, and he brought Sarah Palin down from Alaska, but he’s always cared for his country and tried to be a public servant.

    Well, except for the whole Keating 5 thing.

    I remember when he explained to a woman at one of his campaign rallies that no, Obama wasn’t a secret Muslim, and that he was a good man who loved his country and just had a different vision for America. It would have been better if he managed to fit in that Muslims were often good people too, but it was already a lot.

    That’s how I feel about McCain. He isn’t a secret Muslim, and he is a good man who loves his country and just had a different vision for America. Muslims are also often good people too.

  5. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher: What the woman actually said was that “He’s an Arab,” and McCain replied “No, Ma’am, he’s a decent family man.” This response was far from perfect–he made it sound like being an Arab is somehow mutually exclusive with his being a decent family man–but he was clearly uncomfortable and knew he was dealing with a nutcase. The distance we’ve traveled from McCain to Trump, who doesn’t just fail to stand up to the nuts and bigots among his supporters but actively eggs them on with his own nuttiness and bigotry, is a striking indictment of the direction the party took after McCain’s loss to the Kenyan usurper.

  6. Mikey says:

    I can’t say I agreed with McCain on much, politically speaking, but fact is he served our nation for decades, and while doing so endured things no person should have to endure. Certainly he deserves none of what Trump, a man who has never served anyone but himself, has directed at him.

    Having seen up close what GBM does to a man, I know McCain will have to endure still more as he reaches the end. I hope his passing can be made as comfortable as possible.

  7. Gustopher says:

    @Kylopod: Yeah, that really was not the perfect response to the crazy lady, but it was in the right direction. And he did make it clear that he just disagreed with Obama’s on policy, and he told that guy before that there was no reason to be afraid of an Obama presidency.

    And he walked away from that crazy woman as fast as he could without running. He was not giving her a chance of being heard on the microphone again.

    Such a difference from Trump or the Tea Party. He’s absolutely not without flaws, but more good than not, and actually respects other people he disagrees with.

    It will be a loss when he’s gone. I hope he goes as peacefully and painlessly as possible.

  8. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher: My gut feeling since that incident was to give him the benefit of the doubt. It could be that he was an old white guy with prejudicial views about Arabs that happened to slip out at that moment, but I think it’s likelier that he was just flustered and phrased his response awkwardly without intending to suggest there was something wrong with being an Arab. There is a kind of trap set by the whole Obama-is-a-Muslim meme, where if you deny it you risk sounding like you’re bashing Muslims. When Colin Powell endorsed Obama in 2008 he made a point of arguing that there’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim. But not everyone has addressed the charge that eloquently.

    Of course as I mentioned the woman didn’t call Obama a Muslim, she called him an Arab–indicating she didn’t know the difference. They’re all just scary swarthy foreigners to her. The only other time I remember hearing that bizarre variant of the Obama-Muslim meme was from none other than Rush Limbaugh, who argued that Obama was not black, then proceeded to give his listeners a rather interesting geography lesson in which he claimed that Kenya was one of the “Arab parts of Africa.”

    As they say, never let facts get in the way of a good racist.

  9. JohnSF says:

    ave atque vale, Senator!
    May the roads rise up to meet you,
    May the wind be always at your back,
    May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Not a McCain fan. Never have been. Still, the news of the gioblastoma caused me to feel sad for him that he had to face cancer after the other trials he’d had during his life and I wish him a peaceful passing and wisdom and compassion for his hospice workers in helping him with his last days.

  11. Sleeping Dog says:

    John McCain, a flawed but essentially good man and a patriot. Though I disagreed with him on many issues, the difference was ideological. I never doubted that McCain sought to do the best for his country.

    I wish we had more McCain’s today.

  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    The last Republican with integrity nears his end.

  13. SC_Birdflyte says:

    I presume he’ll be buried at Arlington. I hope the family makes it clear that the Prez is not welcome to show up at any of the funeral rites, not even if the burial is just a couple of miles from the White House.