Day 9: Elizabeth Edwards got metastatic cancer (but don’t worry, that won’t happen to you). P.S. It did.

January 9th, 2013 § 7 comments

Elizabeth Edwards reached many people because she was in the public eye, but inspirational people also live quiet lives. We can be inspired by Edwards’s grace and courage as she dealt with the challenging parts of her life in the same way we can find inspirational people around us each and every day. These are all people we can connect with and learn from. In doing so, we better ourselves.

When she was diagnosed with metastatic cancer people told me not to worry: it wouldn’t happen to me just because it happened to her. That’s true. It wouldn’t happen just because it happened to her. But it did happen. And now I look back on everything I’ve said for the past 5.5 years and I am glad I expressed those thoughts as they were happening. Because my fear came true.


(from December 7, 2010).

I didn’t know Elizabeth Edwards. In fact, I wrote a piece critical of her when she initially stood by John after his affair. I was disappointed when she gave an interview on CNN in May of 2009 and spoke only of John’s “imperfection” rather than calling him the cheater he was and kicking him to the curb. I was angry she hadn’t used her interview time to talk about herself, her cancer, her life: the topics I wanted to hear about. I was angry at her for not claiming her remaining years of life as her own.

So why am I sitting with tears in my eyes because she has died?

I cry because it makes me feel vulnerable and scared of what this disease can do to me: what it did to her.

Yes, I know… there are plenty of men and women who get cancer, have treatment, and stay in remission for the rest of their lives. And, in essence, isn’t that what every cancer patient hopes for, as Betty Rollins wrote, “to die of something else”?

I don’t think it makes me pessimistic, depressing, or negative to think that I am vulnerable.

It’s the truth. It’s my truth.

Anyone who hasn’t been to the oncologist with me to see my risk-of-recurrence charts, my mortality charts, my decision-making discussions along the way can’t say to me “Oh, don’t worry, that won’t be you.” No one, including me, knows how it will go.

People tell me: stay strong, just think positive, you can’t generalize from her situation.

I respond: I am strong, I hope for the best. I don’t think positive thinking is going to save me if there are remaining cancer cells still in me.

I hope that people won’t say to someone who has been diagnosed with cancer, “Don’t worry, what happened to Elizabeth Edwards won’t happen to you.” Because while we do everything we can to ensure we die of something else, it just isn’t always the case. In 2006 her oncologist told her that there were many things going on in her life, “but cancer was not one of them.”  Things change quickly, cancer can recur when you least expect it.

I have sympathy for her family. I cry for her children. I am saddened about the years she spent with a man who didn’t deserve her. I am angry about the time she wasted on him. I hoped she would be an example of someone who would keep cancer at bay.

I grieve for that hope, now gone.

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§ 7 Responses to Day 9: Elizabeth Edwards got metastatic cancer (but don’t worry, that won’t happen to you). P.S. It did."

  • Susan Bisbee says:

    Every time I look in the mirror I see Elizabeth Edwards looking back. Same somewhat “not right” look in the face and hair. I try and emulate her grace and forgiveness each day but it is all still really shitty. Thank you for your daily posts.

  • Katherine C. James says:

    You were not, in December 2010, and you are not now, “pessimistic, depressing, or negative.” That this post is two plus years old astonishes me: I remember it so clearly. I didn’t have cancer then, and hope I never do, but I’ve dealt with, am still dealing with , a John Edwards of my own. Your post reminds me, and I am already aware: time goes so fast; life is short and precious; life is sometimes, maybe often, just ridiculously unfair. Once again, your willingness to articulate the reality of your experience helps, more than you may ever know, people dealing as best they can with all kinds of grief.

  • I felt the same way when Elizabeth passed. She was strong but people don’t understand when you are Stage 4 Mets that you can be strong all you want but it may turn on you anyway.

  • Barbara says:

    Beautifully written as always. Lisa, may I ask something about your conclusion? You have thankfully made me more aware of the language we all use around people with cancer. You conclude by saying you had hoped Elizabeth would ‘keep cancer at bay’. I had concluded from your earlier writings that to expect people to have such a power, of keeping cancer out of remission, was unfair, as if it could sonehow be so kept with greater effort. Maybe I am missing some nuance and would like to understand better. Thank you.

    • A more precise way of stating it would be to say, “that the treatments she used would keep the cancer at bay.” That is, I was not saying “in her power” per se (as in, she could think it away or her attitude, etc.) but rather that the chemotherapies and other medical interventions she tried would have been able to do that. Does that make more sense? There are powers that we have– what we treat it with, if we do at all. I had hoped that what she chose would accomplish that for her.

      Thanks for pushing for a clarification.

  • This is a lovely post.

    I’m still not sure how I feel about Elizabeth Edwards. I admire the grace with which she lived her life under so much scrutiny, but I always wished she had been more forthcoming, first, about the extent of the fertility treatments she endured to have her youngest children, and then, about her husband’s infidelity. I recently reread her books Saving Graces and Resilience, and it seemed like she was so much more forthright when talking about her cancer or about her son Wade’s death. I wish she was still hear to talk about these things, and about the many forms resilience can take.

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