There is only one topic today.
All day yesterday, after the announcement that Elizabeth Edwards had decided to stop further cancer treatments and had only a brief time to live, I listened to women talk about her. Last night, after the announcement that she had died, I received many emails and listened to many voice mails from women who were sad and scared.
The sad part is obvious. Many of us identified with her and wondered if we could be as strong and brave and resilient as she. It was really clear that she had been given more than her share of tragedies. We hoped that her treatments were going well and that she would be one of those women with Stage IV breast cancer (and, yes, there are a lot of them) who live for years. She wasn't. And that is the scary part: Many women expressed some version of "If they couldn't keep Elizabeth Edwards alive, with all her connections and access to every possible best treatment, what will happen to me?" And we are all fearful of the answer to that question.
In my job, virtually every day, I spend time with women who are living with advanced breast cancer. Some of them look and feel ill, but most look fine and are going about their lives in a relatively normal way--with periodic crises and treatment changes and fears and against a background of chronic worry and sadness. Since 1993, when I was initially diagnosed with breast cancer, these daily relationships have made it impossible for me to maintain any kind of denial about possibilities. As I have often, not so eloquently, said: "It is a crap shoot." I know many women whose initial breast cancer diagnosis was especially worrisome (large tumor, many positive lymph nodes) who are doing just fine years later--and I know some women who are dying after a first diagnosis of early breast cancer that was expected to be fine after treatment. We just never know.
And it is that very never knowing that presents us, even if we stay healthy, with the choices that Elizabeth Edwards faced every single day. Do we shut down with fear and grief or do we find a way to look that tiger in the eyes, straighten our backs, reach out our hands to each other, and go forward?
Here is my favorite quote from her. Please use the comment section to share yours.
"Nothing will be quite as I want it, but sometimes we eat the toast that is burned on one side anyway, don't we?" she wrote in the memoir, "Resilience."