ABC News’ Nitya Venkataraman Reports: Faced with the betrayal of her husband, former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, those close to Elizabeth Edwards say she experienced "excruciating anguish" in her decision to stand behind him through his 2008 campaign but that ultimately her terminal illness forced her to "move forward" for the sake of her family.
"No one should assume it was easy," says Hargrave McElroy, Elizabeth Edwards’ best friend, in PEOPLE magazine’s latest issue hitting newsstands Friday.
Once news of the affair went public, the PEOPLE magazine cover story says Elizabeth Edwards encouraged her husband to come clean.
On August 8, John Edwards taped an exclusive interview with Nightline admitting he’d repeatedly lied about an extramarital affair with Rielle Hunter, a film maker once employed by his presidential campaign, and denied involvement in paying her hush money or fathering her child. In the interview, Edwards described his wife as ‘furious’ upon learning of the affair.
PEOPLE reports Edwards’ admission to his wife of the 2006 affair with Hunter as one that came in installments. "He told the truth slowly," said a source close to the couple who dated his confession as after the official launch of Edwards’ 2008 presidential campaign in late December 2006. In March 2007, Mrs. Edwards told reporters she had learned her breast cancer had returned and was incurable.
"There was anguish — excruciating anguish — for her in dealing with this. She was angry and furious and everything, but at one point she had to make a choice: Do I kick him out or do we have a 30-year marriage that can be rebuilt?" McElroy said, in the PEOPLE magazine cover story that also featured an interview with Mrs. Edwards younger brother, Jay Anania.
Anania said living with incurable cancer and "the uncertainty of her own mortality" gave special circumstance to Mrs. Edwards decision to forgive her husband for the sake of her three children Cate, 26, Emma Claire, 10, and Jack, 8.
In the PEOPLE exclusive, McElroy says, "She couldn’t say, ‘Well, maybe we’ll work through this for years, or maybe we should separate for two years. [The cancer] forced her to choose whether to move forward."
Hitting the campaign trail for her husband "was like returning to normalcy" McElroy said, though the challenge became more difficult than anticipated when tabloids began reporting the affair in 2007. McElroy says after that Mrs. Edwards did "strikingly less campaigning" than she did during the 2004 presidential election.
Her friends say Mrs. Edwards had hoped for some release following her husband’s interview with Nightline. "Part of the burden for Elizabeth had been the lie," McElroy says in the PEOPLE magazine exclusive. "She anticipated the great relief the truth brings."
That release for Mrs. Edwards is yet to come. The blow to her husband’s image has been significant. One Democratic strategist told PEOPLE "he’s finished, it’s too distasteful."
Friends tell PEOPLE magazine Edwards is working hard to regain his wife’s trust, that they "are not living separate lives. They are together in that house, as before." They say his remorse "is real" and that "he is in pain." The magazine describes others in the Edwards’ social circle as "outraged."
"The kids are, to a certain extent, oblivious," Elizabeth’s brother tells PEOPLE magazine, "but children are very wise and know things." So far, the magazine says, the Edwardses haven’t sat down with their younger children to discuss these events.