Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Jonathan Alter, Newsweek, writes about Elizabeth Edwards
Cancer is a foreign country, a mere place on a scary map to those who haven’t lived there. I was lucky enough to return home. She wasn’t.
John F. Kennedy once famously remarked that “life is unfair.” It was true of his own family, of course, but also for the Edwardses, especially Elizabeth. After a happy childhood as a navy brat, a successful legal career, wealth, and a family life before politics that she described as the happiest period of her life, she was rewarded in middle age with a triple-whammy—the death of a child, cancer, and adultery.
When I first met Elizabeth in 2003, she was 53 and still beautiful. She was chasing her two young children, Emma Claire and Jack, around the office of the New Hampshire secretary of state, where John had gone with a pack of reporters in tow to register for the 2004 presidential primary. Everyone who covered politics knew that the children, then ages 5 and 3, were the Edwardses’ way of coping after the car accident that killed their 16-year-old son, Wade, in 1996. In that first national campaign, neither parent would speak of Wade publicly, a decision that the press respected. All the Edwardses would talk about was the computer center for high school kids they founded in his name. Their quiet grief conveyed nobility. The Edwards legend grew.
Profiles of John Edwards in that period routinely quoted friends describing his exceptionally close relationship with his wife, whom he had met at the University of North Carolina School of Law. John Edwards later told me he was in awe of Elizabeth’s mind from the day he met her. She plotted (and often micromanaged) his political campaigns. Elizabeth was famously tough on the political help; she clashed with aides in 2004. But nothing that year even hinted at any trouble in the Edwards marriage.
I didn’t get to know Elizabeth in 2004. On Super Tuesday, I was diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkins lymphoma. By Election Day, I had been through a bone-marrow transplant and was on the mend. Elizabeth was moving in the other direction. On the day after Kerry-Edwards lost to Bush-Cheney, Elizabeth was diagnosed with breast cancer. During the campaign she had ignored a lump that had grown to nine centimeters. She was treated, achieved remission, and expected to put the whole nightmare behind her. (Continues here)