Q&A With Elizabeth Edwards: I've Never Been Good at Leisure
Over the past month, Elizabeth Edwards, the blunt and down-to-earth wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, has emerged as her husband's most potent campaign weapon. She appeared solo in his first ad in New Hampshire and has aggressively confronted conservative pundit Ann Coulter and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, all the while keeping an ambitious campaign schedule of her own, despite an ongoing battle with cancer.
In fact, Elizabeth Edwards has become such a force that her husband's campaign strategists are being peppered with questions about whether she has begun to overshadow the candidate. And some critics have suggested that the campaign is using her as her husband's frontline surrogate because her personal history (not just the cancer but also the 1996 death of the Edwardses' 16-year-old son, Wade, in a car accident) makes her difficult to confront. She told the Wall Street Journal last week that she is writing letters to her children to be read in the event of her death; her breast cancer is considered incurable.
During a campaign swing Saturday in Iowa, Edwards sat down with U.S.News & World Report to talk about campaigning, her battle with cancer (she takes a chemotherapy pill daily and receives periodic infusions), and her decision to take an active role in her husband's quest for the White House while raising two young children.
On how having cancer has defined her.
It may surprise people to realize that most of the day I don't think about the cancer. I don't have any symptoms, so there's nothing to really remind me until the people—generous people—reach out and say something. And usually they're hopeful stories, or some alternative medicine they want me to embrace. Do I wish it didn't define me? Absolutely. That's part of the reason to do this. If I sat home, the disease would be what the remainder of my days would be about. And I refuse to give them that. I really try—it gives me an opening, and I think Ann Romney (who has multiple sclerosis) has the same opening—to talk about healthcare generally because we're identified with debilitating or potentially terminal diseases. I hope that as it defines me I'm able to move that definition to not just my healthcare but healthcare generally.
On frequently being introduced as a brave woman, and whether she considers herself such.
No. I mean, what are my choices? It's not like I undertook this voluntarily. Brave people are the firemen who run into the burning building. That's brave. I'm in the burning building, you know. If I could've not been here, that's what I'd choose. What I've discovered as I go around is the people who are on the outside—both critical and complimentary—don't know enough faces of people who have conditions like mine. If they did, they would see the vast majority being, quote, "brave," saying that "I'm living my life; I'm moving forward." Almost everybody embraces life.
On criticism she's received for not staying home with her two young children, Emma Claire, 9, and Jack, 7.