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McCain to return to Senate on Tuesday

Just a week after announcing that he had been diagnosed with a serious brain cancer that is nearly always deadly, U.S. Sen. John McCain will return to Washington, D.C.

McCain — who had an operation 10 days ago to remove a 2-inch clot from his brain that was later identified as glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer — will return to the Senate on Tuesday, his office said.

"Sen. McCain looks forward to returning to the United States Senate tomorrow to continue working on important legislation, including health care reform, the National Defense Authorization Act, and new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea," the brief statement released by his staff said.

The 80-year-old Republican senator from Arizona had a two-inch blood clot removed from his brain above his left eye on July 14. Surgeons at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix performed the operation, which required a craniotomy near his eyebrow. Last Wednesday, his doctors and staff announced that he had been diagnosed with the deadly form of brain cancer.

Although the seriousness of the disease put in doubt McCain's return to the U.S. Senate any time soon, he expressed determination to return to the political fray.

McCain has hardly been inactive during his recovery from surgery to remove a blood clot over his left eye that led to the cancer diagnosis: He has been active on social media, tweeting several times a day, has issued statements on health care reform and Syria policy, and went hiking over the weekend with friends and family.

But the announcement that he was coming back Tuesday “to continue working on important legislation,” did not come as a surprise to those who have worked with McCain.

Former U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, a longtime friend of McCain’s, called the 80-year-old senator “driven.” He said McCain kept such long hours that he needed two interns – one in the morning and another in the afternoon – just to keep up.

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A former intern agreed. Kourtney Balsan, who served as a communications intern in McCain’s last re-election campaign, said he “worked all the time.”

“He outworked us all,” said Balsan, who is now a floor director for Cronkite News. “If he wasn’t in the office, then he was making calls or going to community events and a lot of other things senators do. He has a very strong work ethic.”

That work ethic was cited by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, who said of McCain on CNN last week that, “When you travel with John McCain, you get up early and you work until late at night because that’s who he is.”

2-inch clot removed

Pathology "revealed that a primary brain tumor known as a glioblastoma was associated with the blood clot," his doctors said in a statement released by his office Wednesday evening.

Glioblastomas generally recur, despite surgery and cancer treatments, and most patients live 12-15 months after diagnosis. Less than 3-5 percent live longer than five years, with those patients who are not treated dying within three months.

McCain's doctors said then that he was "recovering from his surgery ‘amazingly well’ and his underlying health is excellent."

Thursday morning, McCain tweeted that he would "be back soon."

"I greatly appreciate the outpouring of support - unfortunately for my sparring partners in Congress, I'll be back soon, so stand-by!," he said.

The weekend after the operation, McCain's office had said he would remain in the state for a week to recover before returning to Washington, D.C.

With the news of the cancer diagnosis, his office said that "further consultations with Sen. McCain's Mayo Clinic care team will indicate when he will return to the United States Senate."

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McCain's absence hampered the ability of GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to push legislation to repeal Obamacare and cut taxes on the wealthy. McConnell had announced two weeks ago that he would cut in half the traditional August recess of the Senate, pushing it back by two weeks in order to take action on Republican priorities.

With McCain out, and other GOP senators declaring that they would not vote for the Republican "repeal and replace" legislation, McConnell's plans fell apart last week.

But while he has been recuperating in Arizona, McCain has not been detached from Washington politics. He issued a statement last Monday, after the apparent collapse of the replacement effort, calling on senators on both sides of the aisle to take a step back, drafting a bill from scratch out in the open.

McCain returns as the Senate is scheduled to take a procedural vote Tuesday on health care reform. The measure has moved haltingly through the Senate, and McConnell last week put off one vote because of McCain’s absence.

With Democrats unified in their opposition to any attempt to repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, Republicans can afford to lose only a handful of their members on a reform bill.

McCain has not said how he would vote. But after one GOP bill fell through last week while he was recuperating, McCain released a statement expressing his discontent at how Republicans proceeded along party lines, which he said was a “problem” tactic used by Democrats when they pushed through the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

He wrote that Republicans should “receive input from members of both parties” to produce a bill providing Americans with access to quality and affordable health care.

McConnell has said he will ask the Senate to vote Tuesday on a procedural motion that would let it consider the House reform bill that passed in May, but was on hold while the Senate attempted to craft its own version of the bill.

Glioblastoma

Glioblastoma is the same variety of cancer that killed Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., in 2009. Kennedy was diagnosed in 2008 after a seizure. It is also the research focus for the Ivy Foundation – for which McCain was a featured speaker in an undated testimonial video.

According to the American Cancer Society, glioblastoma tumors are a fast-growing category of brain tumors that begin in the glial cells, which surround the central nervous system.

McCain's office said he is "grateful to the doctors and staff at Mayo Clinic for their outstanding care, and is confident that any future treatment will be effective."

He has had less-aggressive cancers before. McCain had surgery to remove Stage IIa melanoma in 2000, including removing the lymph nodes on the left side of his neck. He has had four operations to remove skin cancers since 1993, and at least one non-cancerous mole removed as a precaution, in 2008.

McCain was reelected to a sixth six-year term in 2016.

Cronkite News reporter J.T. Lain contributed to this report.


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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

McCain in 2014