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The Nights and Days Of Elizabeth Edwards
The Wall Street Journal

The Nights and Days Of Elizabeth Edwards
At home and on campaign, she juggles her
difficult choices. 'How are you feeling?'
July 21, 2007; Page A1

Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H.


When Jack asks at another point who will be his children's grandma because she'll be dead, Mrs. Edwards chokes up, unable to answer. Mrs. Edwards's world these days is jam-packed with incongruous experiences. In public, she says she's continuing to campaign for her husband's presidential bid because she doesn't want to let cancer win before it kills her. She tells voters on the stump that her husband's campaign is a "calling" worthy of "my precious time."


Between campaign stops and monitoring political blogs, she is working on a "dying letter" to her three children -- a "guide to life" she started before her diagnosis but which takes on more poignancy now. Her advice runs from balancing work and family to telling her children they should always wear solids instead of stripes or plaid -- otherwise, she warns, you'll look back at old photos and cringe at what you're wearing. She is sorting out her and her children's possessions -- clothes, papers, photographs -- and boxing them to save after her death. On the campaign trail, the cancer diagnosis has meant a skyrocketing level of attention that also comes at a cost. As crowds flock to see her at campaign stops, people push greeting cards, cancer remedies, prayers and children on her. Last week, she picked up a boy for a picture and then worried, "Maybe I shouldn't have done that." She's not supposed to do any lifting or actions that could break her bones, where the cancer has spread.


Some in the Edwards campaign fear that rival camps are using Mrs. Edwards' cancer to undercut fundraising. They worry their rivals might be suggesting that money to Mr. Edwards will be wasted should he pull out if his wife's condition worsens... The Edwards are aware that historical statistics indicate that stage-4 breast-cancer patients have only a 20% chance to survive beyond five years. "That just doesn't apply to me," says Mrs. Edwards. "My job is to stay alive until the medicine and research catch up." When asked if he could envision winning the White House without Elizabeth in it, Mr. Edwards shoots back, "I reject that possibility." The couple will celebrate their 30th anniversary at the end of this month, and plan on eating double cheeseburgers at Wendy's (a tradition since their first anniversary) and renewing their vows.


Politically, Mrs. Edwards is using the focus on her to advocate her husband's policy positions, particularly on health care, and to challenge his critics. She's telling her big crowds on the stump that her husband will be a better advocate for women than his rival Hillary Clinton. Earlier this week, Mrs. Edwards received a flurry of attention when she said Mrs. Clinton is dodging women's issues because she is trying to "behave like a man" to show she can be "commander in chief." A new commercial began airing in New Hampshire this week that highlights the couple's 30-year marriage and alludes to their reaction to dealing with her incurable cancer. "John can stare the worst in the face and not blink," Mrs. Edwards says in the ad.


Behind the scenes, campaign staffers were thrilled at the surge in interest and Mrs. Edwards's "high likeability," but worried that "too much exposure could cause a backlash," according to one adviser. Mrs. Edwards wanted to be open about the cancer recurrence but didn't want to give specific details on her treatment or prognosis. "'Let's follow Elizabeth as she goes through her cancer' would be almost exploitive," she told them.


In the steamy room, Mrs. Edwards doesn't shed her suit jacket though sweat is running down her beet-red face. Mrs. Edwards is hiding her swollen arm that's filled with liquid from past cancer treatment on her lymph nodes. Once back in the car to the next event, Mrs. Edwards puts her dripping-wet hair next to the air-conditioning vents, making an impromptu blow dryer. As she glances through the latest gifts, she grimaces. "Saint Elizabeth is too one-dimensional, and it's really not me ... I have to start cussing or something ... People are just too darned nice to me since I've been sick." While she was campaigning in Kentucky recently, a woman grabbed Mrs. Edwards around the neck and declared: "In the name of Jesus Christ, remove this cancer from Elizabeth's body." "I don't pray for my cancer," Mrs. Edwards says, reflecting on that encounter. After her son's death in a freak car accident, "I had to come to grips with a God who allows Wade to die, who doesn't intervene ... If I could have a prayer answered, it wouldn't be for my cancer, it would be for Wade ... but that wasn't God's will."


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