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Correction to This Article
ยท An Oct. 29 Style article incorrectly reported when Elizabeth Edwards's breast cancer was first diagnosed. Edwards and her physician identified a lump in October 2004, but a diagnosis was not confirmed until after a biopsy in November.

Edwards Emerges From Her Husband's Shadow

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Moderator Ezra Klein, associate editor at the American Prospect, questioned Elizabeth Edwards about how universal health care could be cost-effective and how the presidential candidates' health care proposals stack up.Video by Liz Langton/washingtonpost.com

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By Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Her hair has grown back, longer and thicker. She needs a hand climbing into the director's chair positioned at the front of the George Washington University auditorium. Look closely: The wedding band is missing.

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"She looks a bit fragile," observes Liz Roberts, an Arlington woman in the audience Monday evening.

"Maybe vulnerable," says her friend Debbie Nichols.

And yet Elizabeth Edwards is here. Inside the Beltway, in front of the cameras, one week before the Election Day she once dreamed would carry her husband into the giant white house just seven blocks away.

The "husband," as she refers to him, is not here.

This is Elizabeth's gig, her topic, on her terms. There will be no mention of the scandal. No interviews allowed.

Nearly three months after former senator John Edwards acknowledged he had had an affair with a campaign consultant, Elizabeth Edwards, 59, is gradually reemerging, cautiously creating a new public persona -- not as the victimized wife, but as an expert on one of the most pressing domestic policy issues of the day: health care. An expert with an unfortunately heavy dose of firsthand experience.

"Until October 2004, the only time I ever went to the hospital was to have babies," she says, gently reminding the crowd of several hundred of her first cancer diagnosis. "You have no idea what's coming down the pike at you."

The event is billed as "Sick and Broke: A Conversation About Health Care With Elizabeth Edwards," a cozy chat with a friendly interviewer from the liberal American Prospect magazine. It is sponsored by the Center for American Progress, the left-leaning think tank where she is now a senior fellow.

Not that the Edwards family is broke, not remotely. Before he became a senator, John Edwards made millions as a trial lawyer, money that helped fuel his two presidential campaigns and also paid for her to receive some of the best medical care in the world. Yet the story of John and Elizabeth Edwards has also been a reminder of what money cannot buy.

From the beginning, to an astonishing -- almost painful -- degree, Elizabeth Edwards has shared her personal life with us. In her book, blogs and endless campaign interviews, she has spoken with striking candor about her own experiences. The death of a teenage son. Giving birth two years later, at age 48, and again at age 50. A diagnosis of breast cancer one month before John Kerry and running mate John Edwards lost the 2004 presidential race. Remission, a second presidential campaign, and a return of the cancer.

But when, in early August, John Edwards publicly acknowledged his affair, and was caught on camera visiting the other woman, Elizabeth retreated.


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