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On Glioblastoma and People With 'Classic Integrity'


When John McCain died this week, I was reminded of another patient who died of this nasty disease.

Glioblastoma makes me angry. It seems as if there is nothing to do but wait to die since we have made little progress in treating this brain cancer. And now we have lost another fine mind to the disease.

When John McCain died this week, I was reminded of another patient who died of this nasty disease. He was in a spirit group I co-led at what was then Gilda’s Club North Texas.

We met once a week and talked about where we were spiritually. For a number of weeks, (I will call him Ben) Ben just listened. He came from work where he was a mechanic of sorts for large airplanes. Sometimes his wife came with him. He was a man of few words.

Then one week he said something really profound. We were talking about how you cope when your diagnosis is hopeless. We had two others who had metastatic disease in the group.

“I don’t want to just wait to die,” he said. “But I know I am going to die. So, what do I do?”

It was questions like this for which I had no answer that that made me hate being a co-leader. Luckily the other members had lots of suggestions.

“Go back and look at your life,” one said. Another gave the suggestion that he write a memoir. He liked that idea, but pointed out he didn’t have much time and didn’t want to do anything stressful or that had a deadline.

The next time we met, he had thought about it and brought us some poems he had written about his life, his two daughters and how he felt about his cancer diagnosis.

The cancer had begun affecting his appearance and it was clear he was approaching the end. His wife said he loved writing the poetry because it gave him a way to remember the good times. What astounded me was his ability with words — the way he linked simple words to say profound things. I couldn’t wait to hear his new ones each week.

Soon they began to sound confusing. He knew it, too. The rest of the group also started writing, and we all knew something special was happening.

When he died, I knew spirit had given us a rare glimpse into his life and into a coping mechanism that helped him understand that there was nothing he could do but wait.

At his memorial service at Gilda’s, they chose two of his poems to add to the memorial book. It made me happy that he had found something that made him happy — or at least took up the time until he died. I would prefer to believe that spirit had showed us what a soul could look like. A glimpse of who he really was through his words.

I liked John McCain. I saw him as a man of character who spent five years in a prisoner of war camp, but never used it to gain votes. I was really impressed when he spoke up for Barak Obama at a gathering when he was running for president after someone in the crowd called him an Arab. McCain said he wanted to see less bashing of candidates, adding that he was a good man and family man.

Obama called McCain a man of “classic integrity.”

It makes me angry that cancer took another soul who we needed on this earth at a time when there is little “classic integrity.”

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