Elizabeth Edwards on Breast Cancer
This is an entry entirely from MedPage:
Visit us online at www.MedPageToday.com A | A | A | A Elizabeth Edwards' Lessons on Breast Cancer and Life, in Her Own Words
By Michele R. Berman Reviewed by December 10, 2010
Attorney, best-selling author and healthcare activist Elizabeth Edwards passed away three days ago from metastatic breast cancer at the age of 61. She lives on, however, in her books and interviews which have inspired countless others including me. Today's post is dedicated to Elizabeth and the lessons we can learn from her.
Edwards was initially diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, shortly after her husband John Edwards' unsuccessful vice- presidential run. She had put off getting a mammogram, simply because of the inconvenience during this busy period in her life, and now had a "plum-sized" tumor in her breast which had already metastasized to her lymph nodes.
"The result of that is I found out [about the caner] later than I could have," Edwards said. "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 ... The breast cancer is either there or it isn't, whether you get screened or not. It does not change the reality. It only changes your options." Edwards, in an interview with WebMD, suggested 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."
(Our previous story on mammography here)
On Medical Research:
Initially treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, Edwards stressed the importance of volunteering for medical research, participating in a number of clinical trials during her treatment: "I was the beneficiary of women who put their own health at risk. In her book Saving Graces Edwards tells how she felt that the treatment she was getting had been improved by the women in clinical trials before her and that: "I knew I could not repay those women -- most much braver than I, may of whom had taken a chance with their own treatment in order to help find the best treatment for all of us -- except by helping the women who would come after me."
find the best treatment for all of us -- except by helping the women who would come after me."
(Clinical research trials for breast cancer here)
On Telling Her Children About Her Cancer:
"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."
On the Role of Online Health Resources:
A John Edwards supporter, screen name Lilfroggy, created a website, PrayersforElizabeth.org so that people could have a place to post their best wishes to Elizabeth, to send out a "thread of support. Those threads made each day easier for me." Edwards also used the web to find information on symptoms she was having. "I checked and that allowed me to call my doctor and say, 'These are my symptoms and I'm concerned.'" She writes about "Googling" the term "Lumpectomy sloshing" when she was plagued by excess fluid accumulation after some additional lymph nodes were surgically removed.
On Cancer Being a "Gift":
"Cancer as a gift is something that I read about, as my cancer community -- and we are all connected -- struggles to see the silver lining. The gift is an appreciation of our own mortality and therefore an increased appreciation of the days we have. We would trade it all for the peace of good health, but I can still watch my husband comb by boy's hair, or I can listen to Emma Claire sing the words on a birthday card she received, ... and I can see Cate's number come up on the telephone and feel a little explosion of happiness inside me. And maybe I would have felt all the same ways, but I think that at the very least I feel these small joys more keenly."
(Top 10 Good Things About Having Cancer here)
Her Last Words on Facebook:
"I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces - my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined. The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. ... It isn't possible to put into words the love and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day. To you I simply say: you know. With love, Elizabeth."
Note: Quotations of Ms. Edwards used in today's story, unless otherwise specified, were from these sources: