Skip to content

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Elizabeth Edwards: Her Breast Cancer Experience

Elizabeth Edwards talks with WebMD about her breast cancer, treatment, and more.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, knows her breast cancer is not going away.

Edwards' breast cancer, first diagnosed in 2004, has recurred. It's in her bones, and, as Edwards writes in her new memoir, Resilience, "it wasn’t leaving. Not ever."

Recommended Related to Breast Cancer

11 Questions to Ask the Medical Oncologist

Why are you recommending this therapy? What are the risks? Are there other ways to treat the cancer? Where do I go for chemotherapy or hormone therapy? Is chemotherapy given through the vein or as a pill, and will I need anti-nauseamedications? Will I be able to drive myself home after treatment, or do I need help? How long does the treatment last? What are the risks and side effects? Will my hair fall out? Will it grow back? What about premature menopause and infe...

Read the 11 Questions to Ask the Medical Oncologist article > >

That knowledge -- that she will one day die from breast cancer or die with it -- is at the heart of some hard-won lessons about dealing with breast cancer -- and getting aggressive about its early detection.

Edwards, who turns 60 in July, shared what she's learned about breast cancer -- and her advice for breast cancer patients and their loved ones -- in an interview with WebMD.

Finding the "Plum"

In October 2004, Edwards noticed a lump about the size of a slice of plum on the side of her breast. At the time, she was showering in a Wisconsin hotel bathroom; she was in Wisconsin supporting her husband as he campaigned as the Democratic vice presidential nominee.

Having had a harmless breast cyst before, Edwards thought the new lump was another cyst.

"I'd like to say that I found it because I was doing a breast exam," Edwards says. "No. I found it because it was just so friggin' large. In fact, I was thinking, 'How could I have not felt this yesterday?'"

The American Cancer Society considers breast self-exams an option, but not a must, for women in their 20s and older. The American Cancer Society recommends that if a woman does breast self-exams, she should ask a health professional to review her technique at her next checkup. Most breast lumps aren't cancer but should be checked by a doctor, and any breast changes -- whether found during a self-exam or not -- should be reported to a health professional right away, notes the American Cancer Society's web site.

Edwards says she wasn't at high risk for developing breast cancer. She had an aunt who had had breast cancer, but there was no other family history of the disease.

Although having a family history of breast cancer makes breast cancer more likely, the disease doesn't run in the family for most breast cancer patients.

A week after first noticing the "plum," Edwards secretly had a mammogram and ultrasound back home in Raleigh, N.C. Next came a biopsy in Boston, the day after the presidential election, which confirmed that the "plum" was cancer. Further tests showed cancer in several lymph nodes, resulting in a diagnosis of stage II breast cancer.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
Resolved To Quit Smoking
Woman getting mammogram
Screening Tests for Women
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
serious woman
what is your cancer risk
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow