Elizabeth Edwards' Cancer Story Inspiring to Breast Cancer Patients and Survivors

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • When I heard the news about Elizabeth Edwards’ cancer recurrence, I felt what I’m sure so many of you felt: shock, pain, and a great, great sadness. One of our own has been struck again by this evil, random disease, and it’s just not fair. There’s no justice in cancer.

    Elizabeth, current presidential candidate John Edwards’ wife, was first diagnosed in November 2004–right before the defeat of the Democratic ticket featuring John Edwards as Al Gore’s vice presidential running mate. With her diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma, she underwent chemo to shrink the tumor, then a lumpectomy, then radiation: standard stuff. In recent months, she had referred to herself as cancer-free… now, that reference seems painfully premature.

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    All of us who’ve been treated for breast cancer have two things in common, no matter what kind of cancer we have, and what kind of treatment we endure. First is diagnosis–that overwhelming, shocking, “Oh my God, I’m going to die” moment. The second is the never-ending fear that your cancer will come back. When you have cancer, no matter how far past treatment you are, there’s always that little voice in your mind: “Could this headache be brain cancer?” “What’s this pain in my side? Liver cancer?” “My knee is killing me… cancer?” As breast cancer survivors, we know by heart those four common places it can travel: brain, liver, lungs, bone. Thus any discomfort involving those areas reawakens the cancer demons in your head. You talk yourself out of it, sure; none of us runs to the doctor every time we have a stress headache. But there’s always that fear, that point of decision: does THIS particular ache signal cancer? How much should I worry?

    Elizabeth didn’t seem to let the demons get her down. She did a great job getting on with her life, from all outward appearances. She carried on being a wife and mother in the national spotlight; she wrote a book about her life challenges–the death of her son, cancer–and did a book tour. She became a hero to so many of us in the cancer community, as she took cancer and gave it a positive spin, using her celebrity status to spread the good word: there’s life after cancer. There’s hope. We all want to believe this. We NEED to believe this, to carry on. Elizabeth has been our torchbearer.

    And now she has stage IV cancer, metastasized to her bones, and maybe her lungs, as well. This is our worst fear, and Elizabeth’s realized it: she’s drawn the short straw. What’s in store for her? More chemo, certainly. Needles, pain, sickness, fear, all the crap that goes with cancer. And after that, who knows? "We're going to always look for the silver lining," said Elizabeth, at a press conference reporting her recurrence. "Right now, we feel incredibly optimistic." Even with this terrible diagnosis–this worst of all fears come true–she’s choosing her attitude, making it positive. Elizabeth... we love you. And all of us, your sisters in breast cancer, are here for you, as you travel once more down this dark path.


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    Dear Elizabeth Edwards: Thoughts from Breast Cancer Patients, Survivors and Families
Published On: March 23, 2007