Elizabeth Edwards, wife of 2008 presidential contender former Sen. John Edwards, is the first to say she's not special. At a press conference today outside their home in Chapel Hill, N.C., she and her husband announced that her cancer had returned and Elizabeth Edwards said she's just like every other survivor.
"Every time you get something suspicious, you go into alarm mode," Edwards said. "Every cancer survivor that you know personally has exactly that experience."
Edwards has become the voice of those survivors.
Since her diagnosis more than two years ago, Edwards has campaigned not just for her husband on the trail but for cancer victims who don't have a public podium.
At a campaign stop in February, Edwards said, "I've already had people come up to me in this restaurant and say they're a survivor, too. And that happens all the time. And so, you make a connection with people."
Sometimes, she told the Lance Armstrong Livestrong Summit last fall, the treatment is almost as bad as the cancer, a point she reiterates in her book, "Saving Graces."
"I know that I have to kill this dragon, but the killing it is killing me. How easy would it have been for me to fall back into that fear?"
"I was alone in the dark, and I felt frightened and vulnerable," Edwards wrote. "This was the darkest moment, the moment it really hit me. I had cancer. As the weight of it sank in, I slowed my step and the tears pushed against my eyes."
"Writing her book and sharing her personal story -- she didn't have to do that," said Diane Balma, a breast cancer survivor herself and vice president of public policy for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
It has been a life of challenges for the Edwardses: the loss of their son Wade in 1996, the cancer diagnosis almost 2½ years ago and now all over again.
When she announced her cancer in 2004, she received 20,000 e-mails in the first week, and women were inspired to get a lump checked, describing Edwards as "the most extraordinarily unselfish woman" they had ever known.
"I was particularly touched today by her spirit and the hope that she gives all of us with this disease," Balma said. "It's not just that you live, it's how you live."
Her battle with cancer, Edwards said, made her a "sister in something deeply painful and gripping and mysterious."
She is not always strong, she said, but today in North Carolina she was.