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Senator McCain: Way Too Soon To Ask Him To Step Down

Kelli Ward, a former State Senator from Arizona, pictured here in a campaign stop on August 11, 2016, was not able to unseat incumbent U.S. Senator John McCain last year. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

With Senator (R-AZ) John McCain’s diagnosis of a glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor, only a week old, Kelli Ward said on Indiana radio WOWO 1190 AM:“I hope that Sen. McCain is going to look long and hard at this, that his family and advisers are going to look at this and they’re going to advise him to step away as quickly as possible."

Who does Ward think should replace McCain? Ward just happens to be running for McCain’s US Senate position versus Arizona Senator Jeff Flake in Arizona’s 2018 Republican primary. CNN published a recording of her interview.

Although many including political rivals have had appropriately sympathetic, laudatory, and supportive comments about the Senator after McCain’s diagnosis hit the news, Alexander Nazaran reported for Newsweek on some people attacking McCain. Seriously?

Is it too soon to talk about McCain stepping down or "stepping away" or whatever Ward was implying? As Phil McCausland reported for NBC News, Ward cited her background as an osteopathic physician: "As a doctor, I’ve counseled patients in similar situations and these end-of-life choices are never easy. I usually advise terminal patients to reduce stress, relax, and spend time laughing with loved ones." According to the Arizona State Legislature website, the former Arizona State Senator graduated from Duke University with a Bachelor of Science in psychology, received a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, and then completed Family Medicine Residency training in Garden City, Michigan.

Lumping "terminal patients" into one big group is problematic. Cancer comes in many different forms, and even a single type of cancer such as a glioblastoma can have a wide variety of patterns and prognoses. Survival statistics can tell you averages and medians but every patient is different. As I wrote previously, there are patients who have survived glioblastoma for more than 5 years after diagnosis. A cancer diagnosis, even a dire one, does not necessarily mean stop working immediately. In fact, many patients with incurable cancers can continue to be very productive.

Senator John McCain’s diagnosis does not necessarily mean he needs to stop working as a Senator. (Photo: TASOS KATOPODIS/AFP/Getty Images)

McCain’s work plans will depend on where exactly the tumor is located, how big the tumor is, how much tumor remains after the surgery, how his general health is, what his current symptoms are, and what his treatment plan may be. The only way to get these answers is to review all of McCain’s medical records, including his imaging studies, physical exam results, surgery reports, etc., which one would assume McCain would not release to a political rival like Ward. Oh, and it also helps to actually talk to the patient and ask him his thoughts.

Proper medical care is not an assembly line. It’s not about pressuring patients to make decisions when there isn’t an emergency. It’s about listening to the patient, reviewing the evidence, and making the best decisions jointly with the patient in a manner that is tailored to the patient’s situation.

It’s been only a week since McCain’s diagnosis. There is a big difference between waiting a few weeks and waiting more than a year to determine work plans after a diagnosis. Patients and their families need time to process life-altering medical diagnoses and make appropriate decisions and plans such as what traditional and experimental treatments to try…and whether their insurance plans will actually cover the treatments…or what the patients will do if they don’t even have health insurance.

America can wait for Senator McCain and his family to make the right decisions. Regardless of your political affiliation or aspirations, your heart has to go out to someone facing a dire diagnosis. Rushing to make decisions and take actions without clearly understanding the consequences is not good whether you are a patient, a doctor, a Senator, or America.

Follow me on Twitter @bruce_y_lee and visit our Global Obesity Prevention Center (GOPC) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Read my other Forbes pieces here.