There must be millions of pink things in America: pink ribbons, wristbands, tee-shirts, and scarves. All to call attention to breast cancer: the importance of women being checked, the importance of science to continue to work for a cure.
And yet, I wonder how many Americans were surprised when Elizabeth Edwards announced that despite her diagnosis, she and her husband will continue to campaign for president.
Cancer is cruel. It confounds doctors and scientists, and cuts short lives. It has more victims than survivors.
And yet, more and more, people with cancer are able to keep on going for months and years. The times are past when everyone who learns they have cancer left a doctor's office knowing that they had just a few weeks or months to "put their affairs in order" — that's always been the peculiar phrase — before becoming too sick to say good-bye and hold their loved ones close. These days, people can have years. As medical technologies grow more accomplished, some even have the hope of more and more years.
Dr. Richard Wender, president of the American Cancer Society, says that, "cancer has been converted from a short battle that you either win or lose, to a chronic siege."
The result is that there are tens of thousands of Americans who live with cancer; and they simply want to get on with their lives. They want their loved ones to be able to get on with theirs, and not let cancer suck up all of a family's love, money, and energy. People with cancer are real people, not just patients or invalids. They want to continue to love, raise, and support their children, go to movies, make plans for next year, and, like Elizabeth Edwards, work for the things that are important to then.
There are also practical considerations. There is no stipend for cancer in this country. The Edwards are people of means. But most Americans with cancer cannot stop working to cruise around the world, or volunteer in a refugee camp —storylines from a television drama. They have to pay the rent, buy groceries and save for their children. They have to continue working.
Elizabeth Edwards told reporters and supporters this week, "I expect to do next week all the things I did last week. And the week after that and next year at the same time, all the same things I did last week."
There was real poetry in her simple declaration.
John Edwards is the man with his name on the ballot. He will have to endure all the ordinary slings and arrows of a political campaign, and care more than ever for his family, too. But I think even people who don't want to vote for him will see Elizabeth Edwards standing on the public stage, looking determined, loving and strong, and be tempted to call out, "You go, girl!"