John McCain's Surprising Vote: How Cancer Can Change A Person's Worldview

If he survives his cancer, it will be solely due to affordable, quality healthcare that he is fortunate enough to receive.

Having a life-threatening or terminal illness changes a person. I should know. I am a stage III rectal cancer survivor. While I have always been a progressive, battling my cancer made me even more sympathetic to the plight of my fellow humans. It made me realize that without health, there is nothing else. It made me consider how I want to be remembered by those I leave behind once I have died. Besides becoming a mother, I can think of no other life event that has shaped who I am as a person more than being a cancer survivor.

Battling my cancer made me even more sympathetic to the plight of my fellow humans. It made me realize that without health, there is nothing else.

I mention this because GOP Senator John McCain surprised many Americans and his own colleagues by dramatically rising to the occasion in the wee hours of the morning (along with GOP Senators Collins and Murkowski), to cast the deciding vote to kill the latest incarnation of Trumpcare, a cruel and inhumane bill that would have thrown approximately 15 million people off of their health insurance. Many had pointed out the irony of McCain, recently diagnosed with brain cancer, dragging himself out of his sick bed, to vote in favor of bringing the so-called skinny repeal bill to the senate floor for a vote. I’ll admit I was personally disgusted by this as I realized that McCain, and all members of Congress — GOP members of Congress included — benefit from health insurance coverage at the expense of the American taxpayer. Yet, nothing surprises me anymore in the Trump era. And I have come to expect that white male Republican politicians will act, not in the interest of the average American citizen, but the interest of big business and the wealthiest living among us.

Affordable health care in this country is not a privilege. It can’t be because it is as crucial to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as just about anything one can imagine, other than perhaps food and water. Fact: Everyone gets sick and without health care, many sick people will die, including many if not all of cancer patients. In my personal experience, months and years of surgeries, radiation treatments, chemotherapy, hospitalizations, and doctors visits would have been astronomically expensive, and cost-prohibitive despite the sizable nest egg my husband and I have built up over the years. Given my pre-existing condition — Crohn’s disease — I would never have been able to get health insurance on my own. Simply put, I would have died from an aggressive form of stage III rectal cancer, leaving behind my two young children, while still in my early 40s. However, I was one of the lucky ones—one of the privileged ones. My husband had health insurance through his business that extended to me. Now, conservatives might say that my husband worked hard to get his money and insurance, and that as his wife I am entitled to that protection as well. This worldview says that if you don’t work or align yourself with a spouse who works, then you’re essentially SOL. I don’t see it that way. I cannot look myself in the mirror, having survived my cancer so I can watch my two beautiful children grow up, and say that I deserve health care coverage, the rest of America be damned. I would like to think that all cancer survivors feel this way, although there are few if any issues upon which we all can agree. All Americans should have access to affordable, quality healthcare, regardless of privilege, gender, race, religion, gender identity, disability, or sexual orientation. Why? Because it is the right and moral thing to do. It is (or should be) the American way. I feel more strongly about this now than ever before.

Now I have noticed over the years a strange phenomenon when it comes to politicians — especially but not solely Republican politicians. They can be vehemently opposed to a policy, yet suddenly change their minds. Is it because of soul searching, or because they have considered another less fortunate American’s perspective and realized he or she is no less deserving of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness than anyone else? I don’t think so, for the most part. What generally happens is that either someone very close to the politician—a parent, child, or other loved one—turns out to be imperfect or suffers some misfortune. The loved one can become disabled, have autism, turn out to be gay or transgender, become seriously ill, or be seriously injured or killed as the result of gun violence. There are many examples like these, that in effect change the mind of a politician when it comes to policy, such as in the realm of gay rights, terminal illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease, gun violence prevention, etc. In some cases, it is the politician himself who discovers he is not invincible. Despite overcoming adversity in the past, or perhaps never really facing adversity—even as privileged as he may be—this politician becomes gravely ill. A life threatening experience changes him. The politician (or his surviving family members) may then start championing a cause that was never much of a concern of his or he had even opposed vehemently. Or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe this politician is so greedy and myopic, he can’t see past his own wallet.

Perhaps you see where I am headed with this. I can’t help but wonder if McCain is an example of a man who — like so many others — has seen the light about an issue because he is now faced with a very real threat that goes to the heart of that issue. If he survives his cancer, it will be solely due to affordable, quality healthcare that he is fortunate enough to receive by virtue of his job as a United States Senator. Is it possible that he now “gets”—finally—what it means to have that access, or how he would feel if he, like so many Americans, realized that life-saving or prolonging medical treatment was available, just not to him?