Local News

Edwards an inspiration to those with breast cancer

Posted December 9, 2010 4:58 p.m. EST
Updated December 9, 2010 6:30 p.m. EST

— Elizabeth Edwards touched everyone she knew, but she also touched countless people she didn't know, especially women living with breast cancer.

Edwards, 61, the estranged wife of two-time Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, died Tuesday at her Chapel Hill home after a six-year battle with the disease.

A public funeral will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Edenton Street United Methodist Church, 228 W. Edenton St. in Raleigh, and she will be buried in a private service at Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh.

"When I see her on the cover of the paper, it feels like I lost a friend," said Pam Blondin, director of the Triangle's Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Edwards was first diagnosed with cancer in the waning days of the 2004 presidential campaign, when John Edwards, who was then a U.S. senator from North Carolina, was the Democratic nominee for vice president. The couple didn't disclose her illness until after the election.

Tina Quiller-Morgan, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 and is now in remission, said she has followed Edwards' fight closely.

"I felt a kindred feeling towards her as another survivor," Quiller-Morgan said. "I was very sad (about her death). That was my first reaction. I felt for her as far as her struggle. I felt for her family."

Edwards' cancer went into remission after surgery and months of treatment in 2005, but it resurfaced two years later, as John Edwards was mounting a second run at the White House. The couple agreed that they wouldn't allow the cancer to derail his candidacy.

Because the cancer had moved into her bones, doctors said that it was no longer curable but could be treated. In the weeks before her death, doctors informed her that the cancer had spread further and recommended that she stop treatment.

"It does become emotional because, we know, as a survivor, it kind of smacks you in the face each time," Sue McCormick, who has been cancer-free for 20 years, said of Edwards' death.

Still, for breast cancer survivors, there was plenty to admire in Edwards' battle.

"What I admire is that she embraced it. She grabbed it as another cause to advocate for," Blondin said. "I hope this was her legacy – the grace with which she fought this disease."

"Her courage, her openness, I think her feistiness, her willingness to be herself in spite of everything (were all admirable qualities)," Quiller-Morgan said.

"(She was) just another mighty warrior that had modeled the way and left her imprint and provided a great inspiration to all the other survivors out there," McCormick said.

"While she will be missed, her spirit lives on in the fight to find the cures for cancer," said Nancy Brinker, chief executive of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Edwards is survived by her husband, daughters Cate and Emma Claire and son Jack.

Wade Edwards, the couple's oldest child, was killed in 1996 at age 16 when his Jeep overturned as he was driving from the family's home in Raleigh to their beach house on Figure Eight Island, near Wilmington.

The family said Thursday that Cate Edwards and two longtime friends of Elizabeth Edwards, Hargrave McElroy and Glenn Bergenfield, would deliver the eulogies at the funeral.

The Edwards family has asked that people make donations in her memory to the Wade Edwards Foundation, which supports a computer lab for high school students in Raleigh.