On October 21, 2004, at a hotel in Kenosha Wisconsin, Elizabeth Edwards found a lump in her breast the size of a plumb. An election that could vault her husband into the vice presidency was just days away. She was the mother of three children.
In a 2006 interview on WUNC’s The State of Things, Elizabeth remembered telling her oldest daughter Cate the bad news - that she had cancer:
"And she didn’t take it as well, she did get knocked over by it. I honestly think, when I think back on it, I think of that as the worst moment, when I saw her dissolved. I can take anything, just do not hand this pain to my daughter."
It was not the first time Elizabeth Edwards faced a tragedy. Eight years earlier, before she was the wife of a politician, she endured the loss of her oldest son, Wade. He died in 1996 in a car wreck. Jay Anania is Elizabeth’s brother. He told WUNC in 2006 that the crash nearly overwhelmed his sister:
"The early impact of Wade’s death is unspeakably vast. I mean literally unspeakably. There’s no way to describe this kind of loss. And yet, one goes on."
Edwards called on that determination time and time again during the 13 years she spent in the public eye. A day after John lost his bid for Vice President, she began her fight against cancer. She published her first book and advocated for health-care reform. The cancer went into remission, and just before New Year’s Day 2007, John announced he was again running for president. She spoke to WUNC shortly before that announcement:
"Well I’m ready to do anything that John wants to do. We’ve been married for nearly 30 years, been together for longer than that, of course. And he’s stood by me. Always. Cancer treatment, he was there for every chemotherapy session. He was taking care of me all the time. It’s the kind of partnership where we share each others’ good times, we share each others’ bad times, and we share each other’s dreams. So if this is a dream John has, I’m there beside him."
It was, she wrote later, one of the best times of her life. Her popularity outpaced her husband’s. She was a confident, sometimes prickly, member of his inner circle.
But the good times were short-lived. Her cancer returned in March of 2007. She begged John to continue the campaign, but it ended in January of 2008 when he lost a primary in South Carolina, where he was born.
And then her life became tabloid fodder. John had had an affair during the campaign and fathered a child. And two books came out that tarnished Elizabeth’s image.
She went on the Today Show this past summer, just after she announced she was separating from John.
"I have three living children for whom this is the father I want them to love. And on whom they’re going to have to rely perhaps, if my disease takes a bad turn."
The bad turn came fast. Elizabeth made her last public appearance on October 7th. On Monday, the family announced she was stopping treatment. She passed away yesterday at her house in Chapel Hill, surrounded by John and Cate and the two youngest children, 12-year old Emma Claire and 10-year old Jack.
"When I look back, there’s really lots of blessings that I had. I’ve had the opportunity to have these great children. I’ve had wonderful friends. I’ve had experiences that really couldn’t be replaced. And opportunities to talk about things that matter to me."
Elizabeth Edwards ended her last book, "Resilience", with these lines… “In the end there is peace. If we are strong, if we are resilient, if we are stubborn and filled with hope, if we know how to love there is peace before that too, and honestly that is enough…”