WASHINGTON – Elizabeth Edwards began her battle against breast cancer this week, launching an aggressive 16-week course of chemotherapy, to be followed by surgery, then radiation.

The wife of Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina is also speaking out for the first time since her Nov. 2 diagnosis. In a People magazine article that will hit newsstands Friday, she said she’s determined to beat the disease – partly to keep a promise to her young children, who often stayed in Washington while their parents campaigned across the country for the Kerry-Edwards ticket.

“I have a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old who waited for me through the campaign, anticipating that I was going be there,” she told People. “I have to be there for them. I promised.”

Despite recent doctor visits in which she’s been “poked and prodded and tested,” Edwards, 55, said she is keeping her eye on the future. Her family will stay in Washington until she completes her treatment – at Georgetown University Medical Center, a few blocks from their home. But then, with her husband’s single Senate term over, they’ll return to North Carolina, moving into a home they’ll build on 100 acres near Chapel Hill. “We’d like to have horses,” Edwards told People, as well as a guest house for their grown daughter, Cate, 22.

Dr. Marisa Weiss, a Philadelphia-based breast oncologist and founder of www.breastcancer.org, told The Charlotte Observer that Edwards’ treatment – a dose of chemotherapy every other week over 16 weeks, to shrink the tumor – is consistent with cases where the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.

“The type of chemotherapy that is given every two weeks is a chemotherapy regimen that is available and FDA-approved for women with lymph-node involvement,” said Weiss, who was also quoted in People.

But a source close to Edwards said that a needle biopsy of her lymph nodes indicated no signs of cancer.

In the People article, titled “The Fight of Her Life,” Edwards said she noticed the lump in her right breast while showering on Oct. 21. She described it as the size of a half-dollar, “smooth, like a cyst filled with fluid, sort of like a robin’s egg.”

She stayed out on the campaign trail, waiting eight days before she saw her family doctor – and before she told her husband.

Edwards also told the magazine she had not had a mammogram in at least four years, even though annual tests are recommended for women over 40.

“It’s too long to have waited,” she told People. “There is no excuse. I should have gotten one before now.”

Edwards has received support from breast cancer survivors, from Sen. John Kerry and wife Teresa, and from the Bush and Cheney families, who sent notes.

Last weekend, Edwards and her family returned to Raleigh to dine with friends and go on a shopping spree at Toys “R” Us.

“She’s great,” longtime friend Ellan Maynard told The Charlotte Observer when asked about Edwards’ mood on the eve of her intense therapy. “We all went out to dinner and had fun.”

But Edwards made it clear to People how seriously she – and her family – are taking this battle for her health and her future.

“I honestly believe you have to envision yourself getting through this like a runner, and faith is an important component of doing that,” said Edwards.

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Her pastor at Edenton Street United Methodist Church, which she attends when she is in Raleigh, and fellow worshippers at the church helped her and her husband cope with the grief that enveloped them following the 1996 death of their son, Wade, then 16. In the People article, Edwards recalls that time in light of her diagnosis.

“To be perfectly frank, there is an odd place after losing a child, where you think somehow your life is worth less,” she said. “This (diagnosis) is a reminder that this is the life you’ve got, and you’re not getting another one. Whatever has happened, you have to take this life and treasure and protect it. In a sense, having cancer takes you by the shoulder and shakes you.”

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The magazine also recounts reactions of the rest of her family.

When Cate was told, “she just hugged me,” Edwards said. “I think she’s afraid of losing me.”

And the two kids?

“I told them I had a lump called cancer, that there are all kinds of cancers and some are very bad,” Edwards told People. “When I told them that mine is going to make my hair fall out, they shouted, “Your hair is going to fall out!’ and laughed.”

Sen. Edwards, who researched specialists for his wife to see, saluted her toughness.

“From the minute this happened, not a whimper,” he told People. “It’s all strength. I don’t know anybody else who could do that. It’s just amazing.”



Want to Write?

Send e-mail messages to Elizabeth Edwards at Elizabeth(at)oneamericacommittee.com or send cards to Elizabeth Edwards, P.O. Box 5428, Washington, DC 20013.



(c) 2004, The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.).

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GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20041104 EDWARDS cancer

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AP-NY-11-11-04 1319EST



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