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‘Toughest man’ in U.S. Senate John McCain battling brain cancer

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. | AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. | AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

WASHINGTON — Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee with a well-known maverick streak that often vexed his GOP colleagues, has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, his office said in a statement Wednesday.

The 80-year-old lawmaker has glioblastoma, an aggressive cancer, according to doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, where McCain had a blood clot removed from above his left eye last Friday. The senator and his family are reviewing further treatment, including a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.

“On Friday, July 14, Sen. John McCain underwent a procedure to remove a blood clot from above his left eye at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix. Subsequent tissue pathology revealed that a primary brain tumor known as a glioblastoma was associated with the blood clot,” his office said in a statement.

As news of the diagnosis spread, Democrats and Republicans alike offered words of encouragement for the popular Arizona senator.

“Senator John McCain has always been a fighter,” President Donald Trump said. “Melania and I send our thoughts and prayers to Senator McCain, Cindy, and their entire family.  Get well soon. “

Former President Barack Obama paid tribute to his 2008 presidential rival.

“John McCain is an American hero & one of the bravest fighters I’ve ever known,” Obama tweeted. “Cancer doesn’t know what it’s up against.

“Give it hell, John.”

Sarah Palin, who was McCain’s running mate when they lost to Obama in 2008, tweeted:

“John McCain is one tough fighter — we know he’ll face this diagnosis with courage and strength.”

About 20,000 people in the U.S. each year are diagnosed with a glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive type of brain tumor. The American Cancer Society puts the five-year survival rate for patients over 55 at about 4 percent.

RELATED: Brain cancer afflicting McCain killed Gene Siskel, Tim Weigel

The tumor digs tentacle-like roots into normal brain tissue. Patients fare best when surgeons can cut out all the visible tumor, which happened with McCain’s tumor, according to his office. That isn’t a cure; cancerous cells that aren’t visible still tend to lurk. That’s why McCain’s doctors are considering further treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation.

The senator and chairman of the Armed Services Committee had been recovering at his Arizona home. His absence had forced Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to delay action on health care legislation. McCain also had been slated to oversee debate of the sweeping defense policy bill in the coming weeks.

McCain’s Senate colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, offered their prayers and support.

McConnell called McCain a “hero to our conference and a hero to our country. He has never shied from a fight and I know that he will face this challenge with the same extraordinary courage that has characterized his life.”

A Navy pilot, McCain was shot down over Vietnam and held as a prisoner of war for 5½ years.

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, of Delaware, said McCain “is a fighter, and I am hopeful he will once again beat the odds.”

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey described McCain as “undoubtedly the toughest man in the United States Senate. He is an American hero and has served our country like few ever will.”

Doctors say McCain is recovering from his surgery amazingly well, and his underlying health is excellent, according to the statement.

His office disclosed the removal of the blood clot late Saturday and said the senator was awaiting pathology reports. In the past, McCain had been treated for melanoma.

In a statement on Twitter, his daughter, Meghan McCain, said: “My love for my father is boundless and like any daughter I cannot and do not wish to be in a world without him. I have faith that those days remain far away.”

With his irascible grin and fighter-pilot moxie, McCain was elected to the Senate from Arizona six times, but twice thwarted in seeking the presidency.

An upstart presidential bid in 2000 didn’t last long. Eight years later, he fought back from the brink of defeat to win the GOP nomination, only to be overpowered by Obama. McCain chose a little-known Alaska governor as his running mate in that race, and helped turn Palin into a national political figure.

After losing to Obama in an electoral landslide, McCain returned to the Senate, determined not to be defined by a failed presidential campaign. And when Republicans took control of the Senate in 2015, McCain embraced his new job as chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee, eager to play a big role “in defeating the forces of radical Islam that want to destroy America.”

Throughout his long tenure in Congress, McCain has played his role with trademark verve, at one hearing dismissing a protester by calling out, “Get out of here, you low-life scum.”

In 2016, McCain stuck by Trump — at times seemingly through gritted teeth — until the release a month before the election of a lewd audio in which Trump said he could kiss and grab women. Declaring that the breaking point, McCain withdrew his support and said he would write in “some good conservative Republican who’s qualified to be president.”

He had largely held his tongue earlier in the campaign when Trump questioned his status as a war hero by saying: “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

McCain said that was offensive to veterans, but “the best thing to do is put it behind us and move forward.”

AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard and writer Nancy Benac contributed to this report.