Elizabeth Edwards dies of cancer at 61

Elizabeth Edwards (Image courtesy Edwards family)
December 6, 2010 9:00:00 PM PST
Elizabeth Edwards has passed away after a long battle with cancer. The 61-year-old wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards died at home Tuesday morning with her family around her.

The news came after the Edwards family announced Monday that cancer had spread to her liver and doctors were recommending against further treatment.

The family issued a statement Tuesday evening:

Elizabeth Anania Edwards, mother, author, advocate died today at her home in Chapel Hill, surrounded by her family.

Today we have lost the comfort of Elizabeth's presence but she remains the heart of this family. We love her and will never know anyone more inspiring or full of life.

On behalf of Elizabeth we want to express our gratitude to the thousands of kindred spirits who moved and inspired her along the way. Your support and prayers touched our entire family.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Wade Edwards Foundation which benefits the Wade Edwards Learning Lab at www.wade.org.

Before her death, Edwards posted the following message to friends on her Facebook page:

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. 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. 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. It isn’t possible to put into words the love and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day. To you I simply say: you know.

Elizabeth Edwards was born July third, 1949 in Jacksonville, Florida. Her father was a navy pilot and she spent much of her childhood in Japan.

She graduated from UNC Chapel Hill, the school where her father had worked as the assistant lacrosse coach.

After graduation, she went to UNC's law school and that's where she met John Edwards. The two were married at Bethel Baptist Church in Chapel Hill July 30, 1977.

A year later, they celebrated their first anniversary at a Wendy's restaurant after packing all day for their move to Nashville, Tennessee.

Eating at Wendy's became an anniversary tradition.

Their first child, Wade, was born in 1979.

In 1981, the Edwardses relocated to Raleigh where Elizabeth went to work for the attorney general's office before moving to the law firm Merriman, Nicholls, and Crampton.

Daughter Cate was born the next year.

In 1996, tragedy struck as the Edwardses suffered the loss of their teenage son, Wade. He was driving from Raleigh to meet his family on the coast when he lost control of his jeep.

Elizabeth Edwards wrote extensively about the impact of her son's death in her 2006 book, "Saving Graces" and she talked to Oprah about the night she learned her of son's death.

"I was walking through the house and I looked out the front window and I see two cars pull up into the driveway, and I knew immediately that was horrible news," she recalled.

After Wade's death, the Edwardses decided to have more children. Emma Claire was born in 1998 when Elizabeth was 48 years old.

Also during that time, John Edwards decided to run for the US Senate. It was his first political campaign and he defeated incumbent senator Lauch Faircloth.

Their fourth child, Jack was born in 2000.

In 2003, John Edwards started eyeing a run for president. His entry into presidential politics came with the blessing and urging of his biggest supporter: Elizabeth.

She quickly became the candidate's wife and she appeared with her husband at campaign stops all across Iowa, New Hampshire and other states.

"He and I are very different. We have very different backgrounds but he's really straight forward in the way he talks about things and the way he approaches people and it's disarming," she said then in an interview.

And, she was right by his side when nominee John Kerry picked him as his running mate.

The couple once again hit the campaign trail and 11 days before the election, Elizabeth found a lump in her breast as she was getting ready for a campaign speech in Wisconsin.

The day after John Kerry conceded the race, the Edwardses announced Elizabeth had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

She disappeared from public view to deal with her illness and worked hard to make everything seem normal for her young children.

"I don't want to look sick to them," she said then.

After dealing with her breast cancer, the Edwardses decided to build a house and move to Chapel Hill.

And John Edwards' decision to run again in 2008 centered mostly on his wife's health and the cancer prognosis.

In an interview with ABC11 in October, 2006, she talked about courage and said it's about how you live.

"A lot of people have great hope, and a lot of people who have great hope live. And, some of them who have great hope die. So it's not that hope is going to save you. A positive attitude is not going to save you. What it's going to do is, everyday, between now and the day you die, whether that's a short time from now or a long time from now, that every day, you're going to actually live," she said.

For a while, it looked as if Elizabeth Edwards would be one of the many women who beat breast cancer, but then on March 22, 2007 Elizabeth and John held a news conference and announced the cancer was back and it was incurable.

"I expect to do next week, all the things I did last week, and the week after that and next year at the same time, all the same things I did last week," she said.

Once again, Elizabeth refused to give in and let cancer run her life. She returned to the campaign trail where she was a strong voice for health care reform.

And she never lost her sense of humor about her newfound notoriety.

"I can't turn on the TV without seeing me, or open the newspaper without seeing me and honestly, I'm sick to death of me," she said.

After coming in third in several early primaries, John Edwards withdrew from the presidential race on January 30, 2008 and he and Elizabeth returned to their Orange County home.

In the summer of 2008, the Edwardses were back in the news. After a year of rumors and tabloid reports, John Edwards admitted to having an affair with a campaign worker Rielle Hunter in 2006.

Elizabeth issued a statement saying "although John believes he should stand alone and take the consequences of his action now, when the door closes behind him, he has his family waiting for him."

A month later, she was back on the speaking circuit, once again talking about health care reform, determined to focus on how to help others and keep the spotlight off her personal life.

In 2009, Elizabeth Edwards released a second book "Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's Adversities."

She then appeared on Oprah to discuss the book and her husband's infidelity.

In the summer of 2009, she turned her attention to a new venture and opened a furniture store called "The Red Window" on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.

John Edwards was at the opening, but it was one of the last times the couple would be seen together in public.

In early 2010, John Edwards admitted he was the father of Hunter's then 2-year-old daughter, and the Edwards announced they were officially separated.

And while Elizabeth Edwards remained optimistic, she also "prepared for the worst."

She wrote letters to her three children, giving them advice on things like "how to pick the person they'll marry" and how to "pick a church."

As she told People magazine, "it's got all that butting my nose into their lives long after I'm gone stuff."

It's advice from a woman who touched not only the lives of her family and friends, but people around North Carolina and the entire country.

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