Elizabeth Edwards: Her Life, Politics, and Passions
The day she received the results "was very emotional," John says. "I said to Elizabeth, 'Tell me what you want. Tell me, 'cause I'll do anything, including stopping the campaign.' And her answer was basically, 'This is what our lives are about. We need to keep going.'"
None of this fortitude means Elizabeth is fearless. "I don't want people to think that I'm not scared," she says. "I'm really scared." The thought of overlooking a potential treatment or drug that could add years to her life, she says, "terrifies me. Though I have great doctors, is there some technology that they pooh-pooh that actually turns out to be the answer? I worry, too, about how aggressively I want to fight this." Still, when the doctors talk about side effects she might want to avoid, like hair loss, tingling hands, aching bones, she says they don't bother her. "I've got one side effect I want to avoid," she tells them: "death."
How long she can do that is unknown. Some metastatic breast cancer patients survive a decade or longer. Most die within five years. Edwards has certain advantages: Cancers that spread to bone are generally less aggressive than others, and her malignant cells contain estrogen and progesterone receptors, offering promising treatment options. (She takes Femara, which blocks the production of estrogen, along with the bone-strengthening drug Zometa.) Yet there is no cure. "Her prognosis is very good," says Thomas Samuel, MD, an oncologist at the Medical College of Georgia who is familiar with her type of cancer. "But at some point in time, the cancer will be able to outfox the therapies."
Today, without a clear prognosis, even the most casual moments are loaded. Coming home from baseball practice last spring, 6-year-old Jack blurted out, "Who will be my children's grandmother?" As John finessed an answer, Elizabeth hoped the boy wouldn't notice her tears. "Even with the brightest prognosis," she says, "I'm unlikely to ever see his children."