McCain Ends Battle Against Terminal Brain Cancer, Orders Treatment Stopped

In this July 11, 2017, file photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Military.com | By Richard Sisk

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, has ordered doctors to stop treating him for brain cancer, ending a year-long battle against the terminal disease and accepting his fate, his family said Friday.

"John has surpassed expectations for his survival" since disclosing last summer that he was suffering from an aggressive form of glioblastoma, "but the progress of disease and the inexorable advance of age render their verdict," the McCain family said in a statement issued through his Senate office.

"With his usual strength of will, he has now chosen to discontinue medical treatment," his wife, Cindy; daughter Meghan; and others in the McCain family said in the statement.

"Our family is immensely grateful for the support and kindness of all his caregivers over the last year, and for the continuing outpouring of concern and affection from John's many friends and associates," the family said. "God bless and thank you all."

Following his announcement of the diagnosis last July, McCain returned to the Senate, where he was chairman of the Armed Services Committee, but he has remained at the family ranch in the red rock country of Sedona, Ariz., since last December.

On Twitter, Cindy McCain said, "I love my husband with all of my heart. God bless everyone who has cared for my husband along this journey."

Meghan McCain thanked those who share her love for her father during his fight against the disease: "We could not have made it this far without you; you've given us strength to carry on."

At the ranch in Sedona, while undergoing treatment, McCain liked to sit under a tree near a stream to read and rest, according to Mark Salter, a long-time aide, alter ego, and co-author of McCain's books.

McCain admittedly was not the best of patients and would jokingly accuse his nurses of being in the witness protection program.

"His nurses, some of them are new. They don't really know him, so they don't understand that sarcasm is his form of affection," Salter said earlier this summer on the "CBS This Morning" program. "He fights. He's fought with everybody at one point or another. You know, he always talks about the country being 325 million opinionated, vociferous souls -- and he's one of them."

In his last book, co-authored with Salter, "The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights," McCain faced mortality.

"I don't know how much longer I'll be here," he said in an audio excerpt from the book. "Maybe I'll have another five years. Maybe with the advances in oncology, they'll find new treatments for my cancer that will extend my life. Maybe I'll be gone before you hear this. My predicament is, well, rather unpredictable."

With the family's announcement, the tributes to McCain began to pour in, even from those with whom he had clashed on issues.

Last year, McCain came to the Senate floor and famously flashed a thumbs down to cast the deciding vote that scuttled the Trump administration's attempt to gut the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, watched in dismay.

"Very sad to hear this morning's update from the family of our dear friend," McConnell tweeted Friday. "We are so fortunate to call him our friend and colleague. John, Cindy, and the entire McCain family are in our prayers at this incredibly difficult hour."

Members of the House and Senate joined in a collective tribute to McCain earlier this month in naming the $717 billion National Defense Authorization Act for him -- the "John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019."

"I am particularly humbled that my colleagues chose to designate legislation of such importance in my name," McCain said in response.

On Aug. 13, President Donald Trump signed the NDAA at an event at Fort Drum in upstate New York. He never mentioned that the bill was named for McCain, a constant critic.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump declared that he did not consider McCain a war hero, saying he preferred "people who weren't captured."

McCain has acknowledged that he did not vote for Trump and has mocked the president's attempts to improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

McCain was elected to the House from Arizona in 1982 and to the Senate in 1986. John Sidney McCain III, the son and grandson of four-star admirals, entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1954 and retired as a captain in 1981.

In Vietnam, he was known as "air pirate McCain," according to Radio Hanoi. For five years, he was a prisoner of war after his A-4 Skyhawk was shot down. He was awarded the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.

In a Senate floor speech before returning for good to Arizona last year, McCain chided his colleagues for the divisiveness that plagues American politics, while asserting his pride in serving among them.

"Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and on the Internet. To hell with them," he said. "We've been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. We're getting nothing done, my friends; we're getting nothing done.

"I'm going home for a while to treat my illness. I have every intention of returning here and giving many of you pause to regret all the nice things you said about me," he added. "And I hope to impress on you again, that it is an honor to serve the American people in your company."

McCain has already outlined plans for his funeral. He has asked that former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush give eulogies. He has requested that Trump not attend.

He has also asked to be laid to rest alongside Adm. Chuck Larson at the Naval Academy's cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland. Larson, who was twice superintendent of the academy, was McCain's roommate at Annapolis.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.