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Elizabeth Edwards: Her Breast Cancer Experience

Elizabeth Edwards talks with WebMD about her breast cancer, treatment, and more.

"I Knew Better" continued...

"I knew better, just like they know better," Edwards says of women who delay getting routine screening mammograms.

It wasn't that Edwards was afraid of getting mammograms -- it was more about the inconvenience and temporary discomfort and the fact that she didn't think she was at risk.

"The result of that is I found out later than I could have" about the cancer, Edwards says. "Had I done the testing I needed to do, the treatment I would have gotten might not have been as aggressive."

"You don't save yourself anything" by putting screening off, Edwards says. The breast cancer is either there or it isn't, whether you get screened or not.

"It does not change the reality," Edwards says. "It only changes your options."

Edwards suggests that women buddy up with a friend to remind each other to make routine mammogram appointments and stick to them. "It never occurred to me to find a mammogram partner, but that would have been a great thing to do," she says. "I wish I had done that."

Initial Treatment

Edwards got treated for her original tumor from 2004 to 2005. First came chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, then lumpectomy -- surgery to remove the tumor while preserving as much of the breast as possible.

Besides chemotherapy and surgery, Edwards got radiation therapy, and she also triedaromatase inhibitors, which are drugs that block production of the hormone estrogen. (Edwards says her breast cancer is mildly sensitive to estrogen and another hormone, progesterone.)

Edwards says the aromatase inhibitors were "very hard on my joints," so she tried several drugs during that period before completing her treatment in May 2005.

But it wasn't just a certain type of drug that was rough. "Every part" of her initial treatment was physically hard, Edwards says.

"Basically, your body just ached all the time," she says. Edwards was on a two-week cycle of treatment.

"It had a particular rhythm, where you'd start to feel better again just as you're about to get the next treatment ... you'd have maybe four days where you felt great, and then you were taking other medications that made you incredibly hungry -- steroids -- where you just sat in front of the refrigerator and grazed. And then the days after that when I was ... very achy, very tired, and it was just sort of hard to get excited or up for anything."

 

Help at Home

The Edwardses have three children -- Cate, who is 27, Emma Claire, who is 11, and Jack, 9.

When first going through breast cancer treatment, Edwards says her husband helped her cope, especially after the 2004 presidential campaign ended.

"It was like having somebody at home who didn't have a job, except he made his job taking care of me," Elizabeth says. "He would take the kids to the park and I would rest, and then I would read to them and he would cook dinner. He took a lot of the jobs that you might traditionally think of as the caretaking female jobs, just to make certain that the family operated the way that it should. When I went for radiation treatments, I had it first thing in the morning and he got up every morning, got the kids breakfast, and got them off to school."

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