When Elizabeth Edwards announced in March that her breast cancer had
returned, her peers -- other breast cancer survivors -- expressed a range of
emotions. Topping the list was empathy for Edwards, whose cancer had spread to
her bones. There was also pride in her bravery: She chose to be open and honest
about an intensely personal health issue. Others found themselves reliving
their own diagnoses. And, of course, many could not help but give way to
gnawing worry about their own health. Edwards' announcement was a reminder that
cancer can and sometimes does return.
However they reacted, many people -- not just survivors and their families
and friends -- paid close attention to the wife of presidential candidate John
Edwards. And they are likely to keep paying attention over the next year, as
she commits herself to living in the national spotlight alongside her husband
in his bid for the presidency.
These four women lead very different lives, but they all have one thing in common: They developed breast cancer at a young age. They discovered community within the Young Survival Coalition, a national organization dedicated to providing support to young women with breast cancer -- and raising awareness of the disease in women under 40.
By deciding to continue as an active player in the campaign, Edwards, 58,
who was first diagnosed in 2004 when her husband was the Democratic vice
presidential candidate, has made a powerful statement to all women: You can go
on living, even after a diagnosis of recurrence.
"The good part of the story is if next year Elizabeth Edwards is still seen
being active, campaigning for her husband," says Gary Freedman, MD, attending
physician in radiation oncology and director of the Breast Radiation Program at
Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. "It could give women hope that all is
not over and they still have many years of quality life, which Mrs. Edwards is
hoping to have."
Earla Marshall, 52, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 and again
in 2003, says she feels connected with Edwards on a deep level because of her
own experiences. "[We are] on the same journey," says the Ellwood City, Pa.,
small-business owner. "It's great for her to be so honest and upfront with her
feelings. I believe a lot of women are stronger than they realize, and when
faced with certain adversities, you come out on the other side -- with that
added power -- and you should encourage and pass that on to others."