McCain and Fighting Cancer

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

AUGUST 25, 2017

I was so happy to see this Medscape article that considers the right/best thing to say to Senator John McCain or others who are dealing with a serious cancer diagnosis. Actually I think the suggestions apply to anyone with any kind of cancer diagnosis, but someone who is faced with almost certain death from the illness most surely would benefit for some kinds of support more than others.

I have written before with criticisms of the language of cancer. My top dispute is with the common phrase: Ms X failed Taxol. Clearly Ms X did not fail Taxol; Taxol failed her. The even more common words are all the military and war phrases used to describe someone's responses to treatment. It even shows up in obituaries: something like After a long and brave battle with cancer, Ms X succumbed on...... If anyone ever writes that about me, I swear I will find a way to haunt them. Scarily haunt them..

I don't think that warrior words have much to do with most people's (suspect there are exceptions) responses and choices. Most of the time we really don't have much of a choice. Do you accept a difficult treatment or do you just go jump out a high window? Being more serious, these decisions are very painful and layered when the prognosis is bleak no matter what. Fighting a Stage IV very advanced cancer is not going to result in anything different than trying to live gracefully with it. We have to consider how we want to live, how we choose to spend our days, and how we hope others will speak to us. Personally, I hope for support and respect for my choices, whatever they are, and all wishes for grace and dignity.

Here is the start and a link:

Should Well-Wishers Urge McCain to Fight His Cancer? 

Sandra Levy

When Friends and Family Encourage a Fight With Cancer 

One week after receiving a grim brain cancer diagnosis, Senator John McCain delayed his cancer treatment to return to Washington, DC, to cast a vote against the GOP's "skinny repeal" of the Affordable Care Act. On July 31, he began a standard postsurgical regimen of targeted radiation and chemotherapy at the Mayo Clinic. He is planning to return to Washington at the conclusion of the August recess and reported to the media that he is feeling good and exercising. 
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, it is very common for friends and family to encourage them to fight. But in a recent Medscape article, bioethicist Arthur L. Caplan, PhD, criticized McCain's friends and admirers for this type of response. The article has sparked over 500 responses from medical professionals, including many who have treated cancer patients as well as some who have cancer or whose loved ones have cancer. 

Telling patients to fight prevents patients from enjoying the time they have left, said one surgeon. "The media and his colleagues telling him to fight because 'he is a fighter' is sending the wrong message and is not fair to him given his prognosis. As a general surgeon I see this all the time. Patients with very poor prognoses are given false hope and put through unnecessary misery to try to prolong their life even a few weeks or at best a few months, and during this brief time the quality of life is nonexistent and it is only pure torture. He should be able to enjoy as much of the time that he has."

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Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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