Elizabeth Edwards Takes Charge of Final Days

Edwards stops cancer treatments as friends and family rally around her.

December 6, 2010, 4:51 PM

Dec. 7, 2010 — -- A day after announcing that she had stopped all cancer treatment, Elizabeth Edwards, who has publicly personified hope and courage, is characteristically taking charge of her final days.

After posting a comforting message to friends and family on Facebook, the world is now offering its own words of comfort to the 61-year-old Edwards.

Thousands have tweeted words of compassion. Cindy McCain, wife of Sen. John McCain, wrote, "Elizabeth Edwards is in my prayers." Cancer survivor and friend Lance Armstrong told Edwards, "Hang in there Elizabeth...you are loved by many."

The loved ones of Edwards have flocked to be by her side, including estranged husband and one-time presidential hopeful, John Edwards.

Friends tell ABC News that Edwards took a turn for the worse starting in October when she received a worrying MRI.

Just a month earlier, in September, Edwards made two public appearances. She appeared at a Stand Up To Cancer event in Los Angeles, saying, "Cancer doesn't care if you have young children."

She also appeared on the Nate Berkus Show.

In November, Edwards's health deteriorated further. Over Thanksgiving, she was so weak that she had to be briefly hospitalized.

ABC News medical editor Dr. Richard Besser said that Edwards's cancer, which has now spread to her liver, has reached a point where medicine will be of little help.

"When breast cancer occurs in parts of the body, it's no longer curable, but treatable," Besser said. "You eventually reach the point....where there's things medicine can do to you, but not for you."

In 2007, shortly after announcing that her cancer had returned and it was now terminal, Edwards told ABC News that she would continue to battle her disease.

"My job is to stay alive long enough for the medicine to outrun me. And I'm not going to be unnecessarily bullied or unnecessarily depressed," Edwards said.

It seems that the disease has outrun the medicine.

"Elizabeth has been advised by her doctors that further treatment of her cancer would be unproductive," said a statement released by Edwards' family Monday. "She is resting at home with family and friends."

A friend told ABC News that the environment at the house was warm and peaceful. The mood was sad, but also full of warm feelings too.

The friend said Elizabeth is not in pain, and is at peace with what is happening. The friend said that the children of Edwards -- 28-year-old Cate, 12-year-old Emma Claire and her youngest and 10-year-old Jack -- are doing ok.

Edwards's hinting of her impending death on her Facebook page sent a jolt to those close to her and to the public, because Edwards has always seemed defined by an other worldly strength.

The Facebook message thanked her friends and family.

"You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces – my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope," she wrote. "These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined."

"The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And, yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human," wrote Edwards.

"But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful."

Edwards First Showed Public Her Strength After Son's Death

Edwards's strength was first visible to the public in the way she coped with the death of her 16-year-old son, Wade, in a car accident in 1996.

"When Wade died, it was a terrible burden," she said on Larry King Live. "But it also reminded you both of the fact that you needed to grab hold of each day. You couldn't just take each day for granted."

Edwards told ABC News' Claire Shipman that her life stopped when Wade died.

"There isn't a parent who has lost a child in this country who doesn't know that," she said. "Everything exists before that time and then after that time."

The family friend said that Elizabeth wanted to communicate via Facebook because she feels a connection with so many people who have read her book and heard her speak. She wants to "exit with hope," the friend said, and in a way that she chooses.

Edwards' cancer, first diagnosed in 2004, went into remission but returned in 2007 while her husband was campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination.

John Edwards said at the time, "Her cancer is back. We are very optimistic about this." Shortly after, Edwards' stage-four cancer was deemed incurable.

The couple appeared to survive John Edwards' admission that he had an affair with campaign aide Rielle Hunter, and Elizabeth even defended her husband against reports that he fathered Hunter's baby.

But the couple split after the former North Carolina senator finally admitted that he was the father of the baby.

Edwards would not comment on her marriage after he admitted he had fathered the baby, telling The Associated Press, "My marriage shouldn't be on anybody's radar screen except mine."

The couple, while formally separated, were seen grocery shopping together as recently as November.

Born Mary Elizabeth Anania, Elizabeth Edwards grew up in Virginia as the daughter of a Navy pilot.

She initially planned to teach literature, but ultimately pursued a law degree at the University of North Carolina, where she met John.

In recent years, Elizabeth authored two best-selling books and became a champion of causes involving poverty and cancer.

But always, she said, her children were her top priority.

"It scares me the most that there's going to be a day that, you know, is likely to come before I wanted it to come where I have to tell these sweet children goodbye," she said in a "Nightline" interview.

In her book "Resilience," Edwards wrote that she hopes to live long enough to see her three children graduate from school and hopefully have a grandchild.

"Eight years," she wrote. "That's all I ask for... I want to walk them to the door of the next part of their lives."

Edwards previously told ABCNews.com that her children will go to John and then, if he died, to Cate, a plan that she said was written into her will.

In her book, Edwards also pondered her legacy for her children.

"I do know that when they're older and telling their own children about their grandmother, they will be able to say that she stood in the storm...and when the wind did not blow her way and it surely has not, she adjusted her sails," Edwards wrote.

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