Living in Iowa, I am brain-deep in political discussions. In a sea of candidates, one woman who isn’t running stands out as my model for how to live a life—examined and otherwise. Elizabeth Edwards should be elected First Lady no matter who wins the election, just because she has shown what we see too little of in this stressed, too-busy-to-think-straight world: graciousness, personal smarts, and ability to care about the world beyond her small sphere.
Yet, I still hear rumbling that John Edwards should have dropped out of the race once Elizabeth’s cancer returned. I had thought that discussion was over but, in politics, nothing ever seems to be over. My question to people who say this is: And then what? Are John and Elizabeth supposed to skulk back to North Carolina as though getting sick were something to be ashamed of? And what are they going to do when they get there? Sit around wondering and worrying about the big “C” and what it is doing with Elizabeth’s body? If they don’t just sit around stewing, they will have to get involved in some other work to keep themselves vibrant and to use their many talents and gifts. That would then simply replace one pursuit—the presidency—with another one about which neither would be as passionate.
Those of us who have lived through cancer only want our normal back. We know that’ll never happen completely, but can’t we just have part of our lives the way it was before the doctor gave us the bad news? While I thoroughly appreciate the concern others have expressed for me—and cancer really did prove to me how cherished I am—what I appreciate most are those who act like I am still a whole, ordinary person, which I am except for this one slash in my left breast.
Elizabeth Edwards could live for decades, doctors say, so her health should be no more an issue than the health of any of the candidates or their spouses. One of the many epiphanies I had while undergoing treatment was that I could outlive some of the people in my life who were sad for me about my illness but who did not realize they were also about to get sick. Sadly, that has been true in two cases, and I don’t like being right one bit. Still, it proves that life can throw us all for a nasty loop, and we should be judging people by how they can handle the adversity when it comes, not on whether or not it is already here.
Elizabeth Edwards has weathered tragedy that would sideline many of us—the death of her son, the breast cancer and its recurrence—and she has come out it all as a highly functioning human being with a lively brain, sense of humor, and caring spirit. So let her live her life, and let her and John pursue their dream. They’ve been tested. They’ve shown their mettle. That ought to be what really matters.