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Wife's Cancer Won't Stop Edwards' Campaign

Posted March 22, 2007
Updated March 23, 2007

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— Presidential hopeful John Edwards announced Thursday that his wife's cancer had returned, but he has no plans to stop campaigning.

Elizabeth Edwards said she recently cracked a rib, and an X-ray showed a suspicious spot on her right side, which a biopsy determined to be cancer. Medical tests also showed spots on one of her lungs, but doctors haven't determined whether they also indicate cancer.

Since her breast cancer had moved into bone, the cancer is no longer curable but can be treated, said Dr. Lisa Carey, an oncologist at the University of North Carolina's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

One in five breast cancer patients suffers a recurrence of the disease, Carey said. The five-year survival rate for people with such Stage 4 cancers is 26 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

"I don't look sickly, I don't feel sickly. I am as ready as any person can be for that," Elizabeth Edwards said at a news conference. "We're always going to look for the silver lining. That's who we are as people."

John Edwards, a former U.S. senator from North Carolina, cut short a campaign trip to Iowa to be with his wife. He still attended a barbecue fundraiser Wednesday evening in Chapel Hill.

Trying to focus on his wife's health and his campaign is no different than the challenges a president faces on a daily basis, he said. But he made it clear his top priority would be her health.

"We will be in this every step of the way together," he said. "Anytime, anyplace I need to be with Elizabeth, I will be there."

Elizabeth Edwards said she encouraged her husband to remain in the 2008 presidential race, saying other people face more hardship than she does and need his leadership.

"It's important that the American people have a president like him. I can't deprive them of that," she said.

As she undergoes chemotherapy, she said, she occasionally will have to pull back from the campaign to regain her energy. Still, she said she expects her life to change little.

"I expect to do next week everything I did last week, and the next week and next year at the same time," she said.

The couple will campaign together in California Friday before heading to a forum in Las Vegas over the weekend.


Initial Diagnosis in 2004

Elizabeth Edwards, 57, first discovered a lump in her breast in the final days of the 2004 campaign, when her husband was the Democratic vice presidential nominee. He announced the diagnosis the day after he and presidential nominee John Kerry lost the election to President George W. Bush.

She was diagnosed with invasive ductal cancer, the most common type of breast cancer. It can spread from the milk ducts to other parts of the breast and beyond. She wrote about her life, including her breast cancer treatment, in a book published last year called "Saving Graces." She had surgery and underwent several months of radiation and chemotherapy.

John Edwards delayed entering the 2008 race until he was certain her cancer was in remission. He announced his candidacy in December in New Orleans.

He has registered double digits in public opinion polls and is considered a top-tier candidate for the Democratic nomination, although he trails front-runners Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

Elizabeth Edwards said she was lifting a heavy chest at the couple's Chapel Hill home recently and strained her back. Later, she said, she pulled away from her husband's embrace to protect her injured back and cracked a rib.

She called the sequence of events "a blessing" since it led to the X-ray that discovered her recurrence of cancer.

"It's lucky I cracked a rib," she said with a laugh.

Carey, the oncologist, said it's too early to determine the course of Elizabeth Edwards' treatment. But she noted there are a number of drugs that are effective against the cancer.

"We don't know what's going to happen with Mrs. Edwards. But we do know that there are effective treatments and that she looks good," Carey said.

After getting the diagnosis this week, the couple spent a day notifying relatives and discussing the situation with their children.

"We're very optimistic," John Edwards said. "We've been through struggles before, and we know the key is to keep your head up, keep moving and stay strong."


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  • Doctor Dataclerk Mar 23, 2007

    I truly believe that there is not one person that doesn't hope that Mrs. Edwards will recover and live a long life with her family. But I also believe that if this jackass had one bone of decency in his body, he would not only quit his unattainable goal of being the President and take care of her, that he would not use his sick wife as a political prop.

  • juchushu Mar 23, 2007

    Edwards probably is using this as political gain .. but I still feel really bad for Mrs. Edwards. She looks like a very strong woman, and must be scared out of her mind. Prayers to her and the family.

  • skippyskipperton Mar 23, 2007

    I'm with a number of you in mixed emotions here. My sister and mother-in-law both died in 1999 just 4 months apart from a recurrence of breast cancer. I do feel for their family. They are about to go down a road none of them want to go down. The fact that the family agrees NOW that Edwards should continue may come back to bite him, and all of them, on the backside before it's over with.

    But I also feel that BOTH of them are political Whores. They are willing to play off her death or possible death for his candidacy and personal gain.

    Isn't that exactly what the Democrats keep accusing GWB on, over the war on Iraq? Doing it all for personal gain?

  • tarheeldreamer Mar 23, 2007

    My mother has breast cancer. 20 years ago it to spread to her bones. With the chemo and God's good Grace she survived. She has lived almost 20 years cancer free. Last summer the cancer returned. There are new meds now that we are hopeful will work.
    My point don't write Mrs Edwards off yet. She is a fighter. Her history proves that. As for her husband I'll reserve judgement. I don't usually paint everyone with the same brush but politicians all seem to be one sleazy pile of hs.

  • mb Mar 23, 2007

    Dear Elizabeth,
    I am sorry you have cancer. My grandfather went through the same thing. I think you are a very brave women to know that you have cancer and your family will miss you. You are the bravest of them all.
    Maddy, age 9

  • mb Mar 23, 2007

    As someone who is going through the same thing, I know that they must have talked about the future and family. I know that facing death is amazingly difficult and personal. We will never know what goes on between the two of them but I know how much effort it took for her to be strong during the news conference. I hope that none of you making negative comments ever have to face it.

  • Politically Honest NOT PC Mar 23, 2007

    I see John Edwards is supporting his wife in her time of need just like he did the State of North Carolina, by not being there. Kinda makes you wonder, will he support the United States the same way.

    Now that that has been said, as someone who has lost several members of my own family to cancer, my thoughts and prayers go out not only to Mrs. Edwards, but to ALL those with cancer and their families. Hopefully one day (SOON) we will be able to find a cause and a cure for cancer and all the other deadly, currently, untreatable diseases of the world.
    Mrs. Edwards, even though your husband is not there by your side, be assured there are several of us that are. GOOD LUCK.

  • North Carolina Native Mar 23, 2007

    she does seem like a nice lady but she looks like those kids grandmother and Edwards mom.....

  • kidsrn Mar 23, 2007

    I have never liked John Edwards---most notably because of his lackluster performance as our state Senator. However, this is truly terrible news. My heart goes out to their family. With that said, Mr. Edwards needs to put HIS WIFE and CHILDREN first now. I understand that sometimes people need to do things to feel like they have not given up---but the harsh reality is that Mrs. Edwards will likely be quite ill in the days to come and will need her spouse for support and to be a stablizing force in the family. (I am a nurse who works on a cancer floor and have seen first hand how bad it can get). Hard to do that when you are not even physically present.

    At the end, do you think he will wish that he had spent more time with her instead of pursuing the presidency? There may be other times he can run for president, but her time here may be limited.

    I admire your strength and fortitude, Mrs. Edwards.

  • Scare Crow Mar 23, 2007

    ifcdirector, people only see what they want to see, which most of the time is not past the surface. Remember the Golden Rule, ye who has the gold makes the rules. The hell with the other 95% of the population. However everybody loves a sob story, oh how greedy, er oh how strong they are.........gemmie a break.