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Elizabeth Edwards: Her Breast Cancer Experience

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

Being "Incredibly Honest"

In talking with her children about breast cancer, Edwards prizes honesty.

"I think the most important thing -- and the younger the member of your family is, the more important it is -- is that you be incredibly honest, even though you might be giving a grammar school explanation of something," Edwards says. "At least when your children look back on what you said to them, they will know that you were honest with them. We may not get chances to correct this, so we have to get it right the first time."

Edwards says she and her eldest child, Cate, have talked about Cate starting breast cancer screening early. "Actually, I talk about it with young women all the time and the problem, of course, is fighting the insurance companies that say it's not to be paid for. But I'm not worried about [Cate] in terms of getting what she needs, because she's very outspoken. She makes sure she gets what she needs," Edwards says.

Breast Cancer Returns

In March 2007, nearly two years after finishing her breast cancer treatment, Edwards hurt a rib "moving a box or my husband hugged me or something, and I got it checked."

A chest X-ray led to more scans and ultimately to the news that that her breast cancer "had, in fact, spread to my bones," Edwards says, noting that there were also "little places" in her lungs and liver that might also have been cancer. Breast cancer that has spread to other organs of the body is stage IV breast cancer.

The mysterious spot in the liver "was fairly inconsequential" and hasn't changed during treatment, Edwards says. And the question mark about her lung "turned out to be nothing, because we never saw any change there," she says.

And then she stops herself. "Trying not to tempt fate," Edwards says. "You're always hesitant to say something."

In the fall of 2008, Edwards says she felt some pain, so she searched the Internet for "bone cancer symptoms" and used WebMD's Symptom Checker.

"I checked and that allowed me to call my doctor and say, 'These are my symptoms and I'm concerned,'" says Edwards, who recommends that patients looking for health information online consider the reliability of the information they find before taking action.

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