Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards Dies of Cancer at 61

Elizabeth Edwards, who as the wife of former Senator John Edwards gave America an intimate look at a candidate’s marriage by sharing his quest for the 2008 presidential nomination as she struggled with incurable cancer and, secretly, with his infidelity, died Tuesday morning at her home in Chapel Hill, N.C. She was 61.

Her family confirmed the death, saying Mrs. Edwards was surrounded by relatives when she died. A family friend said Mr. Edwards was present. On Monday, two family friends said that Mrs. Edwards’s cancer had spread to her liver and that doctors had advised against further medical treatment.

Mrs. Edwards posted a Facebook message to friends on Monday, saying, “I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces — my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope.” She added: “The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that.”

In a life of idyllic successes and crushing reverses, Mrs. Edwards was an accomplished lawyer, the mother of four children and the wife of a wealthy, handsome senator with sights on the White House. But their 16-year-old son was killed in a car crash, cancer struck her at age 55, the political dreams died and, within months, her husband admitted to having had an extramarital affair with a campaign videographer.

The scandal over the affair faded after his disclosure in 2008. But in 2009, Mrs. Edwards resurrected it in a new book and interviews and television appearances, telling how her husband had misrepresented the infidelity to her, rocked their marriage and spurned her advice to abandon his run for the presidency, a decision in which she ultimately acquiesced.

Last January, on the eve of new disclosures in a book by a former political aide, Mr. Edwards admitted he had fathered a child with the videographer. Soon afterward, he and Mrs. Edwards separated legally.

Mrs. Edwards, a savvy political adviser who took on major roles in her husband’s two campaigns for the White House, learned she had a breast tumor the size of a half-dollar on the day after Election Day 2004, when the Democratic ticket — Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and Mr. Edwards, his running mate from North Carolina — lost to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Radiation and chemotherapy appeared to put the cancer into remission. In a best-selling memoir, “Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers” (Broadway Books, 2006), Mrs. Edwards chronicled her fight for survival. But in March 2007, with her husband again chasing a presidential nomination, this time against Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. and Mrs. Edwards disclosed that her cancer had returned.

They said it was malignant and in an advanced stage, having spread beyond the breast and lymph nodes into her ribs, hip bones and lungs. It was treatable but “no longer curable,” Mr. Edwards explained. But he said he would continue his bid for the presidency, and Mrs. Edwards said that she, too, would go on with the campaign. “I don’t expect my life to be significantly different,” she declared.

Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's AdversitiesAnticancer, A New Way of Life, New Edition
A scathing portrait of Mrs. Edwards’s political role, based mainly on unnamed sources, was presented in “Game Change,” a book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin published last January. “The nearly universal assessment” among campaign aides, they wrote, “was that there was no one on the national stage for whom the disparity between public image and private reality was vaster or more disturbing.”

Mrs. Edwards’s advanced cancer made her a riveting figure, at times overshadowing the candidate himself. In 2007, she was often mobbed by crowds that saw her as courageous. Inevitably, there were questions about putting their marriage on display. People wondered about their values, or whether they were in denial about the cancer. Some accused them of cynically using her illness for political gain.


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