Remembering Elizabeth Edwards

With the unfortunate passing of Elizabeth Edwards this week, we pause to think of her courage and dignity as she fought this terrible disease.

“Elizabeth Edwards was an inspiration to countless women, through her willingness to publicly share her battle with breast cancer, and in her service to end disparities and fight for quality health care for all,” said Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker, founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. “Her strength and perseverance were an inspiration to us all. While she will be missed, her spirit lives on in the fight to find the cures for cancer.

Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer in November of 2004,  soon became an activist for women’s health and cancer patients, and underwent oncology treatments. At a March 22, 2007 press conference, John and Elizabeth Edwards announced that her cancer had returned as stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer with a spot in her rib and possibly her lung.

On December 6, 2010, Edwards’ family announced that she had stopped cancer treatment after her doctors advised her that further treatment would be unproductive, the cancer having metastasized to her liver. She posted her last message on Facebook:

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.”

Metastatic breast cancer (stage IV) is also called advanced breast cancer. The cancer, which began in the breast, has spread to other organs in the body (most often the bones, lungs or liver). Some women may develop metastatic cancer at some point after the initial treatment has failed and cancer has returned (this is called a distant recurrence). Some women have metastatic breast cancer when they are first diagnosed, but this is not common (five percent of diagnoses) in the U.S.

Treatment for metastatic breast cancer
As hard as it is to hear, metastatic breast cancer cannot be cured. Unlike breast cancer that remains in the breast or nearby lymph nodes, you cannot get rid of all the cancer that has spread to other organs. This does not mean, however, that it cannot be treated. People with metastatic breast cancer may live for many years, and researchers continue to develop new and better treatments.

For more information on treatment for metastatic breast cancer, please read more.

Elizabeth’s passing reminds us that while we have come a long way in our fight to discover and deliver the cures to cancer, we still have a long way to go, especially in the case of metastatic disease.