October 10, 2013 at 6:15 pm , by Amelia Harnish
Back in 2004, on the same day the Democratic ticket lost the bid for the White House, Elizabeth Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had been campaigning tirelessly with her husband Sen. John Edwards, the Democratic nominee for Vice President. You’d think a lost election and a breast cancer diagnosis would slow someone down, but it wasn’t so for Elizabeth.
Over the next two years, while she was being treated and monitored for her disease, she became a tireless advocate for women’s health, published a best-selling book and started back on the campaign trail with John when he ran for President.
Her oldest daughter, Cate (right), remembers how at first, her mom thought of her cancer as something she’d have to deal with for a while but ultimately would conquer. Then in 2007, after she’d been in remission for a while, Elizabeth learned that her cancer had spread. It sunk in that she’d be living with breast cancer for the rest of her life. “It was a big change in how my whole family thought about the disease,” Cate explains.
If you’re one of the thousands of women living with advanced breast cancer, or caring for a loved one with the disease, you’re probably very familiar with the change Cate is talking about.
This year about 230,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. New treatments and greater awareness have lead to better outcomes for early stage disease. But about 30 percent of those women may have their cancer return and metastasize, which is called advanced breast cancer. These women and their families face specific challenges and a lot of uncertainty—issues that aren’t a major focus in the “bigger pink movement,” Cate says.
“I had this notion in my head of breast cancer patients falling into two categories: you either become a survivor or you become someone who ‘lost their battle,’” she says. “And that’s just not true. There are so many people living with cancer.” That’s why Cate has joined forces with the Count Us, Know Us, Join Us campaign, a new effort sponsored by Novartis Oncology to raise awareness and connect advanced breast cancer patients to resources and foster community.
Elizabeth passed away in 2010, but not before making the most of her time left. She continued on the campaign trail with John, even amid rumors of his affair. She became President Obama’s adviser on health-care issues during his first campaign, and she published another best-selling book. She and John eventually separated after one of the ugliest public breakups in history. But she remained an inspiration, writing on her Facebook page the day before she died: “I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful.”
“She didn’t know how long she had, but she recognized that none of us do,” Cate says. “By watching her go through everything, I learned how to be strong, but also gentle and supportive in times of difficulty. Her mantra was to live every day with purpose, and she exemplified that.”
To learn more about the campaign, head to advancedbreastcancercommunity.org. You’ll find resources from advocacy groups like breastcancer.org and The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, as well as info on navigating treatment and forums for connecting with other patients.
December 8, 2010 at 4:25 pm , by Lorraine Glennon
Here at Ladies’ Home Journal, we received the news of Elizabeth Edwards’s death with particular sadness. She was a good friend of the magazine, and we twice published excerpts of her memoir Saving Graces—first when the hardcover came out in 2006 and again with the paperback edition, which included a new chapter about the return of the cancer that would eventually take her life.
I was lucky enough to attend the luncheon that LHJ hosted in her honor after the first excerpt was published. It was an intimate gathering—perhaps twelve of us assembled around a single table—that gave everyone present a chance to chat informally with Elizabeth, who immediately revealed herself to be a powerhouse. She was unfailingly charming—warm, funny, compassionate—but what struck me above all was her lively intellect. As she fielded questions ranging from what she really thought of Teresa Heinz Kerry (read the book) to how she would fix healthcare in America, she was insightful, provocative and original. She truly was that rare individual who was as comfortable chatting about her kids as discussing foreign policy—and she did both with aplomb.
She also was a beautiful writer and her books are lasting testaments to that fact. (At the lunch she mentioned that her publisher, upon signing Saving Graces, had provided her with a ghostwriter, but after trying out the arrangement, she quickly decided she preferred to write her own story.) I happened to be an editor at Broadway Books (a division of Random House) at the time her second bestseller, Resilience, was slated to go into paperback. The hardcover version had been published before the news hit that Elizabeth’s husband of thirty-plus years had not only had an affair with a campaign videographer but had also fathered her child; for the paperback, Elizabeth wanted to write an afterword that told her readers the truth. I was honored to work directly with Elizabeth on this new chapter, and, again, I was stunned by the quality of her writing and amazed by her refusal to indulge in even a smidgen of self-pity (to which, given the tragedies she endured, she was more than entitled). That final chapter, which was written last April, began with her recollections of Christmas 2009 (“our last as a family”) and ended with her simple wish for just “eight years”—enough time to see her son Jack graduate high school, her daughter Emma Claire choose a college major and her older daughter, Cate, hand her “at least one child to hold.”
It pains me beyond measure to think that she got only eight months. Rest in peace, EE. You were an inspiration to millions of women.