Cancer Worsening, Edwards's Wife Says

By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 23, 2007

CHAPEL HILL, N.C., March 22 -- Standing in the same courtyard that hosted their wedding reception three decades earlier, former senator John Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, announced Thursday that her breast cancer has recurred and has severely worsened.

But they pledged, jointly, to carry on with his bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

"You can go cower in the corner and hide, or you can be tough and go out there," John Edwards said. "The campaign goes on. The campaign goes on strongly."

As if to prove the point, he flew to New York for a fundraiser Thursday night and his wife traveled to Boston with their two youngest children to see their older daughter at Harvard Law School. They are scheduled to fly together to Los Angeles for more fundraising Friday.

Elizabeth Edwards's oncologist, speaking to reporters after the couple left, said the breast cancer has advanced to Stage IV and has spread to her bones and possibly a lung and other organs. Lisa A. Carey, the oncologist, said the disease has worsened beyond the point of being cured -- it is so serious that no surgery can treat it. Medical treatment will be designed to slow or shrink the cancer and to help Elizabeth Edwards live comfortably.

Edwards, 57, a former lawyer known for her strong opinions and fierce protectiveness, looked at her husband and smiled throughout a hastily arranged news conference focusing on the grim details of her health. Appearing unfazed, at times jumping in to speak, she insisted she feels no pain beyond the cracked rib that alerted doctors to her relapse earlier this week.

"You can see -- I mean, I don't look sickly, I don't feel sickly," she said. "Right now, we feel incredibly optimistic."

It was a familiar image of the Edwards pair: Hit with tragic news, they clasped hands and announced plans to somehow move forward together.

Only this time -- unlike the death of their teenage son Wade in 1996, and unlike her first breast cancer diagnosis, on the eve of the presidential election in 2004 -- the future for the Edwardses appears much less certain.

For Edwards, a former trial lawyer and one-term senator from North Carolina who ran on the Democratic ticket with Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts in 2004, the news of his wife's illness came during a heavy fundraising push at the end of the first quarter of the year, at the start of the most wide-open presidential election in more than a generation. Edwards has been considered a strong contender in the Democratic field, running behind Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) in some surveys but with strong support in the early-caucus state of Iowa, which he has visited regularly over the past two years.

Sounding no less eager than her husband to continue campaigning nationwide, Elizabeth Edwards said her illness should present no obstacle to the campaign, save for more frequent visits to the doctor. Both said that they will slow down if necessary but that doctors have assured them they will not have to.

"I don't think we seriously thought about it," Edwards said, when asked if the couple had discussed suspending or ending the campaign.

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