Ready for Another Tough Campaign

John and Elizabeth Edwards at their news conference. No strangers to tragedy, they lost a son in a car accident in 1996.
John and Elizabeth Edwards at their news conference. No strangers to tragedy, they lost a son in a car accident in 1996. (By Jeffrey A. Camarati -- Bloomberg News)
By Lynne Duke and Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 23, 2007

Not once did the shadow of fear cross her face. Elizabeth Edwards stood before the nation, a graceful fighter steeled for personal tragedy again. The cancer is back and in her bones, a lung and possibly elsewhere. The news seemed worse than bad. Yet Edwards conveyed no hint of being hobbled by an incurable cancer. Self-pity was nowhere on the scene.

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

With an openness that thrust her personal travails square into the public and political arena, Edwards, 57, laughed at times, seemingly free of stress as she spoke forthrightly yesterday about her health and its implications for her life and her husband's presidential campaign.

She appeared relaxed, fully in command of the public space she occupied as she couched her health status in the most optimistic terms possible, saying of her marriage, "We're going to always look for the silver lining. It is who we are as people, and we'll continue to do it."

John and Elizabeth Edwards stood together, a battle-tested couple once again meeting the public. Both lawyers, they have lived a life of prosperity and good fortune but also suffered devastating loss. Their firstborn, Wade, died at 16 in a 1996 car accident. In 2004, at the end of her husband's vice presidential campaign, she received a diagnosis of breast cancer. And now, in the midst of his campaign for the presidency, comes news of her cancer's recurrence.

The Edwardses don't speak very much in public about Wade's death, though Elizabeth devoted a section of her memoir, "Saving Graces," to Wade's passing.

"She has always been strong, but I don't think she has always been able to control her emotions. That came from Wade's death," says Hargrave McElroy, the close friend who was with Elizabeth when, as she campaigned in 2004, she discovered the lump in her breast. "She was strengthened by that and has the ability to move forward despite bad news."

In the hours before yesterday's noon news conference, there had been speculation that her husband might suspend some of his campaign activities. But friends says they are certain that his wife would have been dead-set against any change in his campaign.

The real question friends and political observers have is not whether she'll tough it out -- but whether he can stay connected and focused without her. Though Edwards said he expects his wife to be with him on the campaign trail when she can, he also added, "Any time any place that I need to be with Elizabeth, I will be there, period."

Friends say this turn of events, as distressing as it is, was handled in pure Elizabeth Edwards style: head on.

"She dreads nothing," said her brother, Jay Anania, 56.

"It's who she is. She's never not been that way," Anania says. "When she was a child she was sort of the smartest, the strongest and most organized, the doer. She's the one, when we were in elementary school in Japan, she would write the book and the music for the Christmas pageant. She's absolutely always been that way. She's somebody who said to me at one point during the last campaign, when she had gone 20 hours a day for months and I said, 'You really need to rest,' and she said, 'Rest is overrated.' "

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