Former Sen. Edwards Holds a News Conference on Wife's Health

Thursday, March 22, 2007; 5:21 PM




J. EDWARDS: Let me say first, welcome to all of you who came here from someplace else. You can see, just by looking around, why Elizabeth and I love Chapel Hill so much. And this is actually the place, 30 years ago this summer, where we had our wedding reception. So this is a place that's very familiar to the two of us.

We came today to talk about what's happened with Elizabeth and what's happened with her health situation.

Monday of this week, Elizabeth went to the doctor because she felt a pain on her left side. She went in, had X-rays taken. The result of the X-rays showed that she may have a fracture on the left side. And there was also something that looked suspicious on a rib on the right side.

I was in Iowa at the time. She was called on Tuesday. I was in Iowa at the time. She called me and said that they wanted to do follow-up tests yesterday, on Wednesday. So I came back from Iowa on Tuesday night.

Wednesday, we went into the hospital, here in Chapel Hill, had further tests done. A bone study was done. That study actually made the suspicion about the rib on the right side more intense. There was more concern about it. And as a result, there was a biopsy done of that section of her rib on the right side. The biopsy showed that the cancer had returned. It was malignant.

And later in the day, we did a C.T. scan, which was done for the purpose of basically examining the soft tissue. The bone study had looked at her hard tissue. The C.T. scan showed very little.

And so the net result of all the tests is that she has -- her cancer is back. It's largely confined in bone, which is a good thing.

Dr. Kerry (ph), who's actually seated on the front here, Dr. Lisa Kerry (ph), who's the -- in charge of Elizabeth's care, will be available to answer questions from you when we finish, if you have medical questions, technical questions.

But the bottom line is, her cancer is back.

We are very optimistic about this, because having been through some struggles together in the past, we know that the key is to keep your head up and keep moving and be strong, and we intend to do exactly that.

J. EDWARDS: Although, when the cancer goes from breast and shows in bone, which it's doing now, it's no longer curable: It is completely treatable.

And I'll let Dr. Kerry (ph) speak to this later, but she indicated to us that because of the relatively minimal presence of cancer in other places, because of the size, the relatively small size of the tumor, that she, and we as a result, are very optimistic. And many patients in similar circumstances have lived many years, undergoing treatment.

The thing that is true is that her cancer will not be cured now. Elizabeth will have this as long as she's alive. And the analogy that Dr. Kerry (ph) gave us is, it's like a patient having diabetes. You know, the disease never goes away. The diabetes never goes away. But you treat it; you treat it with insulin; you take your medicine. And that's exactly what we intend to do.

And I intend to do the same thing I've always done with Elizabeth. We've been married 30 years, known each other longer than that. And we will be in this, every step of the way, together.

And I think Elizabeth may want to say a few words before we take questions from you.

E. EDWARDS: Thank you all for coming. And I appreciate that we delayed telling you all anything. And that's because we have family all over the country that we wanted to talk to first. And so we thought that was the best decision for us to do.

And I appreciate that you all allowed us the opportunity to do that, to talk to everybody -- explain things to my mother in Florida and to my aunt in Pennsylvania, and John's parents -- so that everybody could hear from us first before they heard through you.

Honestly, through you -- it hasn't turned out to be so reliable in the last 24 hours.


But, in addition, it's given us an opportunity to explain it to our children, which we have done.

And they are fairly disappointed that it doesn't look like I'll lose my hair with the next round of medicine. But aside from that, they have the same hopeful attitude that we have, and that is that you do what the doctor tells you. And we're blessed to have such an extraordinary doctor in whose care I have been and will continue to be.

But the other thing you do is keep -- keep a positive attitude that we had actually before. You know, John was saying that last week people asked him how I was doing, and he said, she's cancer free. It turned out not to be the truth.

But it was that attitude of, you know, we're going to always look for the silver lining. It is who we are as people, and we'll continue to do it.

E. EDWARDS: I do want to say something, and that is, this is what happens to every cancer survivor. Not that you ultimately get a bad diagnosis, but every time you get something suspicious, you go into alarm mode. And every cancer survivor that you know personally has exactly that experience of knowing that that pain they feel in their side, the ache they feel someplace could be the sign of something worse.

This turned out to be -- there were times yesterday that we thought it might be a lot worse than it is, and we wouldn't be having the same conference we're having right now with the same hopeful tone. We're actually encouraged as we got more and more test results. And right now we feel incredibly optimistic.

I expect to do next week all the things I did last week, and the week after that and next year at the same time all the same things I did last week. I do not expect -- except that I'll be seeing Dr. Kerry (ph) a lot more often -- I don't expect my life to be significantly different.


E. EDWARDS: Campbell just asked how I was feeling physically.

One of the things -- one of the hopeful signs, besides the fact that this is, as Lisa will say, low volume in terms of how much cancer I have in me -- in my bones -- I'm also completely asymptomatic. I'm actually very lucky that I cracked this rib. Because if I hadn't cracked it, I wouldn't have gotten the chest X-ray that identified the suspicious place.

And something now, which is at least a scenario about which we can be reasonably optimistic, might not have been the case two years from now or three, when I became symptomatic.

The only thing that hurts me on my whole body is my rib right here. And, honestly, I bless it, because that's the reason that I'm able to stand before you with a smile.

QUESTION: Senator Edwards, what does this mean for your campaign? Are you going to suspend any activities, fund-raising, travel?


QUESTION: Not at all?

J. EDWARDS: The campaign goes on. The campaign goes on strongly.

Elizabeth and I have talked at length about this already; talked with our children about it. Basically, as I mentioned earlier, we've been confronted with these kind of traumas and struggles already in our lives. And we know from our previous experience that when this happens, you have a choice: You can go cower in the corner and hide or you can be tough and go out there and stand up for what you believe in.

J. EDWARDS: And both of us are committed to the cause, we're committed to changing this country that we love so much. And we have no intention of cowering in the corner.

QUESTION: So no suspension (OFF-MIKE)

J. EDWARDS: None, whatsoever.

We leave here, this press conference, to go to New York and Boston, and tomorrow to California, together.


E. EDWARDS: For the people who couldn't here, "Am I ready for that?"

I absolutely ready for this or ready for that. Honestly, I have all the energy. I mean, one of the reasons to do a press conference as opposed to a press release so that you can see, I mean, I don't look sickly, I don't feel sickly. And, you know, I'm as ready as any person can be for that. I mean, you know how grueling it is in general.

There is a likelihood that some of the medications that I will be taking will at some times make me tired. I have, as you all well know, and a lot of you actually know my younger children, a 6 and an 8-year-old. If I get tired, I actually expect they're going to be the reason, as opposed to the medications that Dr. Kerry (ph) is going to be giving me.

But there's a chance the both of them will make me tired sometimes, and so sometimes I'll step back to, sort of, regain my energy.

But I'm also 57, you know, and so I might get a little tired. But right now, I don't feel any of that.

And I want to say something. And that is that one of the reasons that it's important, from my perspective, to move forward with this is that I'm immensely proud of John's campaign. I don't -- he's run a campaign that's based on substance, based on reaching out to individual people. I mean, he's made certain that people understand the reason why he wants to be president.

And it's not about John Edwards. If it were, you know, it would be easy to give it up, honestly, and I think he would give it up in a second and I would give it up, although there's honestly no health reason why we should.

But they're not the reason. And it's the people that John met in the last two years working in the poverty center and the people he met as he went overseas. It's the people that I met in 2003 and 2004.

I described it one time, every event I ever did, someone cried on my shoulder about the state of their life, you know.

Is this a hardship for us? Yes, it's yet another hurdle.

But I've seen people who are in real desperate shape, who don't, first of all, have the wonderful support that I have and have no place to turn. And it's unbelievably important that we get this election right.

And in my view -- and, of course, you all can recognize I'm probably prejudiced in this -- there's nobody who's offering people of this country a more positive and delineated vision about where we can go than John.

And so, that's why it's important. It's important that the American people have the opportunity to have a president like him.

E. EDWARDS: And I can't deprive him of that just because I want to sit home, feeling perfectly well, but wanting his company.

J. EDWARDS: And if I can just (inaudible) take one moment to just add something that Elizabeth can't say, because she would never do this, yesterday afternoon when we were in the hospital with Lisa (ph) getting these results was not a good day for us. And in the midst of all that, we had -- just the two of us, no one else was there -- a conversation about what this all means. And not shockingly to anyone who knows Elizabeth, all she wanted to talk about were me -- our children first, me and the country.

And there was no one else there. She wasn't doing this for show. It was just me. I was the only person there. Not a word about her. No concern about her.

This is the most extraordinarily unselfish woman I have ever known. And I -- I just can't tell you how proud I am of her today.

QUESTION: How'd you break your rib?

J. EDWARDS: I knew that question was coming.


We moved into a new house. You all probably heard about it.


And in one room I have a lamp that sat on the floor, and I have a chest that's in storage, and I just got sick and tired of watching that lamp on the floor. So I went into storage while John was gone on a trip and I found the chest of drawers. Unfortunately, there was some boxes in front of it. So I did -- though my dad was in the Navy, I moved 100 times -- well, not 100, but a lot -- and I moved -- I reached over and picked it up. Really stupid, you should be picking up something that heavy with your legs and not with your back. I knew immediately I'd hurt my back.

So I had a hurt back. John came home and gave me a big hug. That felt uncomfortable and I wrenched in a way, and he immediately heard a pop. So, it was -- if you want to think about the coincidences that happen...

J. EDWARDS: Actually, I was beating her.


This was probably a week or so ago?

E. EDWARDS: Yes, probably a week, yes -- maybe a week ago exactly now.

So I went -- and I went to the doctors on Monday to find out about whether -- what this was on my side. I went to the same doctor I had gone to the previous week about what do I do about my back.

E. EDWARDS: And I said, well, I've got a new problem now.

But, honestly, I consider all of those circumstances unbelievably fortuitous. If I hadn't picked up the chest, I wouldn't have turned; the rib wouldn't have broken; I wouldn't have seen Dr. Lee, who sent me to the X-ray -- for the X-ray.

QUESTION: Obviously, it's extremely selfless of you, Mrs. Edwards, to want to continue campaigning while you're going through the treatment.

Senator, did you ever consider saying to her, "No, I'm not going to, even though you want me to"?

J. EDWARDS: We did, about this, what we've done about every major decision in our lives, which is we discussed it openly, the two of us.

You won't be shocked to hear that I don't mandate anything with Elizabeth Edwards, and I don't think she believes she does with me.

E. EDWARDS: No, I don't.

J. EDWARDS: We talked about it, thought about it.

There wasn't a great deal of consideration given to that, I think, largely because, when we talked to Dr. Kerry (ph), she said that nothing about campaigning -- the physical and difficult nature of campaigning and this kind of campaign -- would interfere at all with her treatment or effect her results.

So, that being the case, there really, from our perspective, other than sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves, there was no reason to stop. And we -- I don't think we seriously thought about it to be honest with you.

I'll let Elizabeth speak here.

E. EDWARDS: Yes, I do want to say that before the final decision was actually made between us, you know, John cornered Dr. Kerry (ph) and, you know, "Would this make a difference?" Because if it made a difference -- if the answer had been yes, it will make a difference, I think the answer to your question would have been very different. But...

J. EDWARDS: Because remember Dr. Kerry (ph) said to you...

E. EDWARDS: That's right.

J. EDWARDS: ... you should tell that story.

E. EDWARDS: That's right. She said, "No, it won't make any difference." And then she thought -- she said, "Do you want it to make a difference?"


And I said, "No, the truth is what we want." And so that was -- and so we moved on from that.

But if the answer to that question had been different, John's answer to you, I'm certain, would have been different. He would not have...

J. EDWARDS: Let me be absolutely clear. Any time, any place that I need to be with Elizabeth, I will be there, period. It doesn't matter what's happening in the campaign. If she needs me -- if she's not with me, which she will be most of the time -- I'll be there.


J. EDWARDS: I have not.

E. EDWARDS: Honestly, we don't know whether anybody's tried. It may be that people have tried through the campaign. We just don't -- and we haven't heard of it. I don't want to...

J. EDWARDS: Also, in fairness, I'm not sure they knew anything until now.

QUESTION: Mrs. Edwards, I wanted to ask if you could describe the treatment that you're going to be undergoing, when that treatment will start, and maybe say a few words about what you're doing to prepare mentally as you do that?

E. EDWARDS: Well, we discussed the likely protocol with Dr. Kerry (ph). I don't think that that protocol is actually quite settled, because there is some -- they get some information -- some information will come back from the biopsy we had yesterday -- wasn't back yesterday and I don't think is even back today -- in order to know with some certainty.

But I understand that I will have what will be a less debilitating kind of chemotherapy that I will, basically have in some form or another for the remainder of my life. And Dr. Kerry (ph) can answer that question more accurately than I am. If she says something different from what I said, she's right, I'm wrong.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) in 2004, that there was some sort of abnormality around your rib. Is this related to that?

E. EDWARDS: No, actually. The question was, in my book, I described an abnormality that's shown up on a bone scan. This is another one of the scares that you always get if you have cancer.

And there was a shadow on one of my ribs.

E. EDWARDS: It actually turned out to be a shadow on my left rib; probably an old break that I may have had a long time ago, even as a child. It was never identified. I may be the weak place that allowed a hug and a twist to cause the break. I don't know.

But the rib that is completely asymptomatic but has the cancer is actually on the other side and in the back. It's an entirely different location.

STAFF: Last question.

QUESTION: Just to clarify. You don't expect that you're going to adjust your schedule, other than your obvious comment that if you need to pull out to be somewhere, you will? But you don't anticipate adjusting your schedule?

And sort of a follow-up would be, mentally, how do you, when you're in the midst of a campaign like this, how do you stay focused when you have this kind of a burden?

J. EDWARDS: Well, anyone who wants to be president of the United States needs to understand and recognize that there will be very difficult, intense, high pressure times when judgments have to be made. And if you're not able to, in a focused, thoughtful way, to deal with this kind of pressure, you're not ready to be president.

And the maturity and the judgment that's required of the president, especially in these historic times, requires the president to be able to function and focus under very difficult circumstances.

And as I mentioned earlier, we have -- not the first time we've been through things like this. So we have some experience with it. And I think we've demonstrated how we deal with it.

E. EDWARDS: Can I say something about that? And that is I've seen John through each of the things -- some things before there were ever any press around -- to watch him in tough times. And it's not that it doesn't hit him. I mean, things hit him like they hit everybody else. But he has an unbelievable toughness, a reserve that allows him to push forward with what needs to happen.

It's what happened after our son died in 1996. The reason we were able to accomplish the things we were able to accomplish in his name, I'd like to say it was me. It sure wasn't. It was entirely because John saw what needed to be done and persisted in getting it done.

And with my breast cancer, it was the same thing. I was able to be, in a sense, something I'm not usually, which is docile. I was a docile patient, because I knew that all the toughness that was required of me, he exhibited for me.

E. EDWARDS: He found out what needed to be done. He found out who the best doctors were and made certain that I had everything that I needed, even though he was facing the same unknowns that everybody who faces cancer faces.

He's unbelievably tough.

J. EDWARDS: But this is what I mean by unselfish.


Thank you all very much.

E. EDWARDS: Thank y'all.



Mar 22, 2007 14:46 ET .EOF

Source: CQ Transcriptions

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