Is John McCain Dying of Cancer?

by: Matt Stoller

Tue Sep 16, 2008 at 15:03

I just got back from a dermatologist for a check-up (growing up in Miami with outdoor summers requires this), and I asked her about McCain and skin cancer.  He's had various types of the disease and I wanted to get a sense of whether he's really in danger or if this is one of those treatable forms of cancer.  And she told me that basically, some skin cancers are not that bad, but malignant melanoma - the kind McCain has had in two separate places - is not one of those.  It's bad.  Real bad.  And unlike most cancers, it doesn't really go away, even after years in remission.  Sam Donaldson had it on his ankle, and thirteen years later it returned in the same spot.  McCain has had it on two separate 'primaries' (not recurrences, which aren't as bad), and you can clearly see the post-surgical scars of having his lymph nodes checked (and partially removed).  This is not a healthy guy, this is a 72 year old man with a fairly high likelihood of serious illness and death within the next few years.

I asked Senator Jon Kyl, a Republican, about John McCain's cancer, and he said that McCain is in remission.  The video is above.  You can see above that Kyl is taken aback, but he says that he trusts what John McCain told him.  But why?  That might be good enough for a Republican Senator, but why should that be the test for the voters?  Why should we trust McCain on his medical past?  It's not just that McCain has stretched the truth in this campaign, as even Karl Rove noted, or that he's acted as desperately as you'd expect a dying man to act when stretching for his lifelong dream of the Presidency, it's that McCain has simply refused to release his medical records to the public and confined select members of the press to a three hour window with no electronic equipment to examine his records.  Brave New Films is on this question, and more than a thousand doctors have signed up to ask him to release his medical records.  You should sign this petition and watch the video, it is downright scary.  While this race is between Obama and McCain, President Palin is not an unlikely outcome (as Matt Damon noted).

Matt Stoller :: Is John McCain Dying of Cancer?
There is precedent for covering up the health records of Presidents.  JFK was a deeply unhealthy President, and the press covered up Reagan's increasingly obvious senility with phrases from Time Magazine like "If Reagan is afflicted by senility, some of the world's leaders might try a case of it."  But this is different.  McCain is contesting for the Presidency as a 72 year old man with a history of extremely severe malignant cancer, not just one case but several, as well as many other minor forms of cancer and various other diseases.  He's on six different forms of medication.

I won't go into Palin, except to note that the question of her qualifications does matter in the context of McCain dying in office.  Ultimately this is not a question of McCain's health, though, it's a question of his fitness for the Presidency; can you trust someone who won't release his medical records to run the country?  Is he really going to place his own ambitions to become President above allowing the voters to know the answer to the very basic question of whether he'll be alive to serve them in the next few years?

I'll have more soon.

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this is a legitimate issue (4.00 / 4)
but the press corps have collectively decided not to ask tough questions about it. I can't understand why, especially with Palin and her very thin resume.

My prediction is that questions about his health will only command more attention if McCain stumbles badly in the debates.

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Why (4.00 / 4)
Why is it that whenever a Republican wants to listen to our phone calls, read our mail, etc. for no good reason, they tell us "the innocent have nothing to hide".  But when we ask them a question we have a good reason to know about (McCain's medical records, Palin's role in the Trooper scandal) they fudge and obfuscate and hide--all while claiming innocence?

[ Parent ]
presidential medical history (0.00 / 0)
forget JFK, Grover Cleveland had his jaw removed on a boat off the US coast in total secrecy to remove cancer during his second term in office.

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ouch! (0.00 / 0)

Join the California Nurses Association and National Nurses Organizing Committee in the fight for guaranteed healthcare on the single-payer model at

[ Parent ]
Dying is not the only risk (4.00 / 3)
I am a retired actuary and I know something about mortality and morbidity risks.  

Yes, there is a significant risk that McCain could die in his first term but I worry even more about something else.   He could easily develop what we call cognitive impairment (dementia).     This could impair his judgment, reason and temperament.    The consequences could be devastating.   Our constitution does not address the issue of a President who is mentally impaired.  

Most historians agree that FDR was mentally impaired at the Yalta conference and was very ineffective because of it.   Some say that Poland fell under Soviet rule because of FDR's mental impairment.  

Frankly -  a mentally impaired McCain scares me as much, if not more, than Sarah Palin.    

The country should demand a release of ALL of McCains medical records into those records that pertain to his mental health.   The psychological profile done when he was released from the prison camp should also be released.  


Yalta (4.00 / 2)
Not to get off the subject, but Stalin's troops were occupying Poland in February 1945. I'm not sure what Roosevelt and Churchill could have really done to pry it from his grip.  

[ Parent ]
Agreed (4.00 / 1)
the US and UK got everything they wanted out of Yalta. Short of WW 2 and 1/2, there was no way to stop Stalin from taking control of nearly all of Eastern Europe.  

[ Parent ]
Yes and he will be incapacited during cancer treatments (4.00 / 4)
It's not just a question of what are the risks of him dying during two terms but the chances of a reoccurance that can be treated.

He would be incapacited during cancer treatments, thus Palin would take over the Presidential duties.

McCain has had five bouts with cancer. One of which was a deadly form of malignant melanoma. He is 72 years and may live for many more years, but his medical condition tells us that there is a strong possibility that he require more  medical treatments that cause him to be incapacitated, as far as fulfillng Presidential duties.  

[ Parent ]
Section IV of the 25th amendment covers this prety well, I woudl think (4.00 / 1)
surely mental incapacity would fall under the criterion under which the VP and a majority of the Cabinet could transmit to Congress the declaration that the President is unable to fulfill the duties of the President.  McCain could fight it under the terms of the amendment, but Congress gets the final say, and it would be settled in under a month.

It certainly wouldn't be a fun time for us or for the Constitution, but there is a clear procedure to remove a mentally incapacitated President from office.  

[ Parent ]
Amendments Only Work When Congress Makes Them Work (4.00 / 2)
We had a mentally incapacitated President back in the 80s and congress did nothing. I see no reason to expect them to be any different now.

[ Parent ]
This would still be very prolonged and messy (0.00 / 0)
Mental incapacity would come on gradually.    A lot of damage could be done before half of the cabinet (all appointed by the President) would agree to a declaration.  

If the President suffered a stroke and it was immediately apparent that he was incapacitated, things could move quickly.    However, there are lots of possible scenarios where the mental incapacity would come on slowly.   Much damage could be done before a change is made.    

[ Parent ]
Can someone post a ticker... (4.00 / 3)
Showing the days since those doctors asked McCain to release his medical records?  The press made a big deal about McCain's idiotic ticker on Obama not visiting Iraq.  I know the press will never follow a non-Drudge-sourced lead, but its worth a try.

good idea (0.00 / 0)
What is John McCain hiding from the American public, what is John McCain covering up? Release the medical records Senator!

[ Parent ]
I wonder... (4.00 / 2)
Whether the campaign or 527s or SOMEONE should be activating the "President Palin" issue.

Andrew Sullivan had a funny post about how "President Palin" was really hurting them, but I actually haven't really seen anyone pushing this.  If we actually start activating the possibility of "President Palin", perhaps that would actually start scaring people off again.

president Palin would be an (4.00 / 3)
excellent skit for Tina Fey. Three crosses on top of the White House, tanning bed in the Oval Office, live wolf hunts on the Mall, you get the idea.  

[ Parent ]
can't forget this one (4.00 / 3)

McCain had cancer removed in February of this year, and tried to cover it up.

There is no reason to trust him John McCain on his health, none at all.

Consider the possible "ageism" backlash (4.00 / 1)
First, McCain is not going to release these records and the press is going to be OK with that.  Tough to swallow and deeply disturbing but that's the way it is.  

So then the issue is whether McCain's stubborness to release his records and the controversy surrounding that helps us or hurts us with the ~10% of undecided voters living in each the ~10 states right now that will decide the election.  Just want to make sure you've properly conceptualized the issue before you open this can of worms.  

For what it's worth, its possible this could hurt us with the portion of that decisive demographic that are over 50 and living in Florida.  The message that McCain is too old and too sick to be President (even if he is) may really rub some elderly voters the wrong way, as they begin to get on their identity politics high horse and feel that they too are being attacked.  

The rationality train left the station a long time ago.  Sure, communicating McCain's unfitness to be President makes a lot of sense, but the people who will decide this election are more than willing to cast a vote based on emotions such as fear, indignation and anger than their logical self interest.  Not really saying anything new here, but something to think about in this context.  

Good points all (0.00 / 0)
Although, it's worth pointing out that fairly large numbers of people - something like 25% - report being troubled by McCain's age.

[ Parent ]
How many of those are independent or swing voters? (0.00 / 0)
I'm guessing not many...  Most of those are probably already Obama supporters.

[ Parent ]
My guess is that those are Older Voters. (4.00 / 3)
Awareness of your own mortality can make you aware that others die.  I would never have worried about this kind of thing, but now, having cared for two dying parents, I have to say, McCain is now talking with the same rhythms and affect as my mother before the doctor lead us to believe she might have Alzheimer's.  
This is a difficult issue, but most jobs available in the United States would not be open to McCain solely on account of his age.  As a teacher, they force your retirement at 70.  My father, an engineer, had to quit at 65. Why are the standards lower to be president?  

[ Parent ]
Less of an issue than with some other demographics (4.00 / 4)
I think what you're saying could be true for some voters, but I'm not convinced that it will be the huge issue with older voters that some envision.

The reason for this -- many older voters have experienced illness, lack of energy, and diminished physical and mental capacities for themselves.  They know that this is not a made-up issue!  Although many older folk are in excellent physical and mental health, lots are not, and most know others who are not.  They, better than anyone, know first-hand the physical and mental toll aging and illness can take on a person's job performance.

These age-related health concerns, unlike concerns with other demographics, are real.  To suggest that someone might not do a good job at being president just because s/he is "too black" or "too gay" -- those statements are ridiculous, because there is nothing inherent in being black or gay that prohibits you from doing a good job.

However, to suggest that someone may not be able to do a good job because s/he is not in good health -- there are things inherent to being ill that DO affect one's job performance -- being tired, mentally confused from medications, unconscious, to name a few possibilities.  Or dead.

I don't wish ill on McCain.  In fact, if he is elected, god help us all if anything happens to him and we are left with President Palin.  But Matt's right, people should have full access to the facts in order to accurately asses what we're getting into here.

Republicans can't fix our country; they're too busy saddlebacking.

[ Parent ]
I had a malignant melanoma removed (0.00 / 0)
fifteen years ago. Without going to far into the weeds on this, skin cancers (there are a variety) are unlikely to kill anyone if the pre-cancerous tissue is being monitored, as McCain's skin most certainly are.

The question of McCain's age is a legitimate issue.

I'd certainly re-frame the question, however.

[ Parent ]
I was thinking the same thing (0.00 / 0)
The president's health is closely monitored on a regular basis.  Considering McCain's age and health history, he will surely be monitored even more regularly, and even closer.  My understanding of melanomas is that if they are treated early, they are very curable.  Not sure if age or previous occurances makes a difference with that, though.

I'll ask my dermatologist next week to see what she thinks.

[ Parent ]
I cannot find a link to this research (4.00 / 2)
but I remember reading in 1996 that seniors were the group most likely to tell pollsters that Dole's age was a concern for them.

It seems that people who know firsthand that they don't have the energy and stamina (and perhaps mental acuity) they used to have will worry more about this than young people who think they'll never really age.

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[ Parent ]
Isn't everyone voting for Palin anyway? (4.00 / 1)
while i think this is sort of a good issue to press on, if you've ever known someone dieing of cancer you know McCain is not. He may in the future - and remission to death can be blazing fast - and that's a very important issue here - but based on my personal experience he's currently not giving any signs of dieing of cancer.

Michael Bloomberg, prince of corporate welfare

Aww (0.00 / 0)
"he says that he trusts what John McCain told him"

Well isn't that cute?

I guess the devil is in the details (0.00 / 0)
I'm in favor of Matt's strategy if its done in a way that doesn't let McCain play the victim card and, at the same time, make him more sympathetic to older white voters (obama's weakest demographic).  

Also, consider the possibility that we make this attack and then McCain does something checkers-esque and does a staged press conference where he runs a mile or chops down a tree or something .  It would be completely contrived, but admittedly great theater and keep in mind that the ~10% of the electorate that is undecided essentially views this election as a reality TV competition designed to amuse them (isn't Sarah Palin HOT!).  

Again, as a preliminary step, i think we need to conceptualize how a tactic that makes sense given our own rational understanding of the ways a democracy should work will play in a world that behaves in irrational ways that are much more skillfully manipulated by the Republican than by us.  

Two personal experiences (4.00 / 1)
I had a brother-in-law die of malignant melanoma. He had it once when he was 32, underwent treatment, had lymph nodes removed, and had it in remission.  After 10 years during which he visited the doctor every three months for testing, he was declared cancer free, and told he could cut back to once-a-year visits. That was in April 1998.  In July 1998, "something didn't feel right" and he went to the doctor.  The cancer had come back.  He died in September at age 42.  It was a rapid decline, but excruciating to see.

Similarly, my father-in-law died of lung cancer at age 75 in 1999. His decline took nine months.  In the last couple of weeks, when he was in hospice care, my wife and I visited him daily, and were with him when he passed on.  I've since described his passing as suffocating to death and having it take two weeks.  Again, it was excruciating to watch.  The experience proved to me the reverse of the old saying that sex is like oxygen; the less of it you get the more important it becomes.

When he finally announced, a day or two before his passing, "OK, I'm ready to go," my first thought, which I kept to myself was, "thank goodness."  Later, two of my in-laws confided to me they had the same reaction.

I agree with the commenter who remarked that should such events befall a McCain administration, this would challenge the nation and the Constitution.  While our rival governments might outwardly display propriety when our country was in such a vulnerable position, would they be able to resist subversively trying to exploit us at a time of weakness?  And would our terrorist enemies cut us some slack, or observe an appropriate period of mourning, or allow a President Palin to be brought up to speed before resuming their efforts to vanquish us?

We have to ask our Republican and conservative brethren, if it seems likely that such a scenario might come to pass, why would we choose to do that to ourselves as a nation?

Still a legit issue (4.00 / 2)
Maybe I'm getting up in age, but I remember when physical exam reports were routinely released by all presidential candidates during the campaigns.  It is part of making sure the person can handle the job.

Screening Trial (0.00 / 0)
I work for the National Cancer Institute on a screening trial, and the most trustworthy data on survival and mortality comes from SEER. Here's the page they have on Melanoma.

It appears that the overall relative survival rate for white males in a five year period is 88.8%. That's compared to a 31.8% survival rate with Ted Kennedy's brain cancer, and a 5.1% for pancreatic cancer. Overall, those aren't bad odds for John McCain.


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