Stop Celebrating John McCain’s Cancer Diagnosis

Last night, various outlets reported Arizona Senator John McCain had been diagnosed with a glioblastoma, a common – but highly malignant — brain tumor. The news was largely met with an outpouring of support from legislators from both sides of the aisle, including former President Barack Obama, with whom McCain battled for the presidency in 2008.

It was also reported that surgeons had removed the tumor in question, fueling some speculation that McCain could return to his duties in the Senate following a short recovery period. Unfortunately, the odds of that are exceedingly slim.

Those same reports also noted that McCain must also begin additional treatment, most likely radiation, chemotherapy, or some combination thereof. The reason this additional treatment is necessary is that one of the largest risks associated with glioblastoma is the high likelihood of a recurrence of tumors.

Glioblastoma is considered one of the most deadly forms of cancer. According to the American Brain Tumor Association, the median survival rate is a little more than a year (14.6 months), and the two-year survival rate is roughly 30%. The five-year survival rate is, in healthy adults, approximately 10%; unfortunately, it is extremely rare for an otherwise healthy adult to survive past 5 years with glioblastoma. And given McCain’s age and prior history with melanoma, that figure lowers to 4%.

In other words, Senator McCain’s prognosis is extremely bleak. That is incredibly sad news. But it hasn’t stopped some from gleefully celebrating the (likely) impending demise of a man who has served this country in some form or another for the past 60-plus years.

To be sure, I do not agree with many of Senator McCain’s policies or his votes in favor of endless wars in the Middle East. I was disappointed by his response to then-candidate Donald Trump’s mocking McCain’s deserved reputation as a war hero. (If you’ll recall, Trump — who never served in the military — denigrated McCain, saying “I like people who weren’t captured” and summarily scoffed at the five-and-a-half-year, torture-laden imprisonment McCain endured at the “Hanoi Hilton” during Vietnam.) I thought McCain had an obligation to strongly rebuke Trump; if not for himself, then in defense of the tens of thousands of American soldiers who have been prisoners of war.

I also haven’t been impressed by McCain’s (and, for that matter, Senator Lindsey Graham’s) habit of denouncing the Trump administration’s policy proposals in public, only to quietly vote in favor of those same policies when push comes to shove. And I also think that the many Americans who are lining up to praise McCain as a “hero” would do well to read this piece from 2008 outlining McCain’s rocky rise to the Republican candidacy.

I believe these are fair criticisms of Senator McCain; moreover, I believe Senator McCain would agree that my opinions are justified, even if he likely wouldn’t agree with the opinions themselves. An individual’s record as a public servant is, in my mind, fair game — public officials are not immune to criticism. But to cheer about Senator McCain’s cancer diagnosis is nothing short of reprehensible.

To be clear, the cheering is not coming from mainstream media outlets. The cheering is coming from average people. Take a look at the comment section of any piece about Senator McCain’s diagnosis, and I’d be willing to bet there’s at least one person with some crass remark about how Senator McCain’s diagnosis is an example of the chickens coming home to roost. One of the ones I saw yesterday was “If John McCain has brain cancer, then what will the rest of the GOP be diagnosed with? Also, fuck John McCain. He foisted Sarah Palin […] into the mainstream in a desperate move to get noticed.”

I don’t care what your political stripes are. I don’t care that conservatives celebrated the death of Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy in 2009. I don’t care that Senator McCain might have been the reason why millions of Americans lost health insurance if Trumpcare had passed. (I also think it’s overly simplistic to lay the blame for Trumpcare at the feet of one man; for one thing, the bill didn’t even come up for a vote; for another, the passage of the bill didn’t hinge on McCain’s vote alone.)

None of these are acceptable reasons to hop on Twitter or dive into the comments section on news articles to spew invective and bask in the schadenfreude of the news that a man is terminally ill. Especially not when the man in question is, by most accounts, a kind and decent man who is well-liked by all of his colleagues, not just those in his own party.

Whether or not you like him as a politician, John McCain has served this country faithfully for over half a century. At a bare minimum, he should be afforded the respect worthy of a dedicated public servant, veteran, and former POW. If you so thoroughly dislike John McCain, Politician, that you can’t bring yourself to offer support and well-wishes to John McCain, Human Being, I won’t argue with you. But if that’s the case, don’t to take this opportunity to gloat — a more compassionate response would be to say nothing at all.

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