Elizabeth Edwards, Facing the Future
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Plenty of presidential candidates are talking about healthcare, and for one of them that issue became very personal last week. Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, announced that her breast cancer has returned. The Edwards said doctors had told them her cancer could not be cured but could be treated.
And as she spoke last night on "60 Minutes," Elizabeth Edwards said that was a message she hoped people would hear.
(Soundbite of TV show "60 Minutes")
Ms. ELIZABETH EDWARDS (Wife of John Edwards): We're all going to die, and I pretty much know what I'm going to die of now. But I do want to live as full and normal life as I can from this point on.
INSKEEP: We asked our commentator Leroy Sievers, who checks in with us regularly about his own life as a cancer patient, for his thoughts.
LEROY SIEVERS: One of the shocks of becoming an adult is learning that not everything can be fixed, not everything can be made better. You can never forget that moment when the doctor tells you it's cancer. Your heart begins to pound, your brain screams out in disbelief, your hearing stops too, but usually only after you hear the words that so often come next: There's no cure.
When John and Elizabeth Edwards announced to the world last week that her cancer had returned, so many of the phrases, so many of the words they used, sounded familiar to cancer patients. It's not curable but it is treatable. It can be managed. It's a chronic disease like diabetes; you can live with it.
That's the way most doctors and most patients approach cancer these days. It's not an immediate death sentence. It will change your life, it will bring pain both physical and mental, it will affect everyone around you but it may not kill you. At least not right away.
With all the new drugs and all the new treatments, doctors try to hold the cancer in place. They try to buy you time. Sure, everyone would like the tumors to shrink or better yet go away, but that's not what happens in most cases. If chemo or radiation can buy you a couple more months or even weeks, that's success. Because we're not trying just to defeat the cancer, we're trying to postpone our own deaths.
The Edwards put on a brave face. They were optimistic and upbeat. They said they were up for the fight. But I'm sure they too were rocked by those words no cure. Their lives will never be the same after hearing that. Elizabeth Edwards' doctors may be able to manage her cancer, she may live for years, but she now knows what so many cancer patients know, that most likely the disease will ultimately kill her.
And though cancer patients are brave, though we fight like hell, we're honest with ourselves too. We know the one thing we want just isn't possible. We want someone to fix it, to make it go away. Along with everything else, cancer robs us of our innocence.
INSKEEP: Leroy Sievers sends us a blog and podcasts about his experiences with cancer. And you can find them on our Web site. To follow his story and share your own, go to npr.org/MyCancer.
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