From Helen H. Miller, LCSW, CancerCare CEO:
We mourn the loss of Elizabeth Edwards, who died on Dec. 7 from metastatic breast cancer at the age of 61. An accomplished lawyer, political advisor and the wife of a former US senator (who was also a vice presidential candidate and, briefly, presidential candidate), Edwards will be remembered in part for the tragedies and personal struggles in her later years that played out so publicly and painfully on the national stage. More enduring, however, is the legacy of her courage and activism on behalf of all people facing cancer.
Elizabeth Edwards was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, and was successfully treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. But in 2007, her cancer returned and was found to have spread. Edwards described her diagnosis as treatable, but “no longer curable.”
Still, this did little to slow her down. She became an inspirational figure to anyone facing cancer, especially an advanced-stage diagnosis. As the mother of an adult daughter and two young children, she was candid about discussing her diagnosis with them, and in numerous interviews with the press emphasized the importance of talking to children honestly and openly, in language they can understand, about 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 told WebMD in an interview last year. “At least when your children look back on what you said to them, they will know that you were honest with them.”
Elizabeth Edwards exemplified the resilience and spirit we at CancerCare see everyday in the individuals and families we serve. She was a true champion of people of all ages and from all walks of life who, like her, face cancer with courage and with hope, and live their lives accordingly.
She will be greatly missed.
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with an advanced or recurring cancer, CancerCare recommends:
Communicate with your doctor. The question of prognosis, that is, how long one may have to live with advanced cancer, is one that some people want to ask and others do not. However, it may be possible for a doctor to provide information regarding a time frame that could be helpful in terms of decision-making regarding treatment choices, planning for future care, financial decisions and how to spend your time. Read more about practicing doctor/patient communication in the CancerCare publication, Communicating with your Health Care Team.
“Incurable” does not mean “untreatable.” There are treatments that can control or slow down cancer from growing or spreading to other parts of the body. In this way, a cancer that cannot currently be cured can still be treated.
Define hope and meaning for yourself. A recurrence of cancer requires that you define hope in a more varied and complex way. Recurrence is a time to revisit those decisions and more specifically think about the quality of your life and what that means to you. Most important is how your doctor, family, and friends can help you maintain what you define as quality living. Read more in the publication, Coping with Cancer: Tools to Help You Live.
Talk openly with your children. Conversations about advanced cancer can feel particularly complicated where children are concerned. The best thing you can do for your children during this difficult time is to talk to them about your recurrence and their feelings. Learn more in our publication, Helping Children Understand Cancer: Talking to Your Kids About Your Diagnosis.