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Elizabeth Edwards Dies of Cancer

Edwards, 61, Was First Diagnosed With Breast Cancer in 2004

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 7, 2010 -- Elizabeth Edwards, 61, died of cancer this morning at her home in North Carolina, according to media reports.

Yesterday, media reported that her condition had worsened and that she had posted a message on her Facebook page that included these lines: "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."

Edwards, estranged from former Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. She spoke with WebMD about her breast cancer in May 2009.

Edwards' Breast Cancer

Edwards first noticed a lump in her breast in late October 2004 while showering in a Wisconsin hotel, on the road in support of her husband, John Edwards, in his vice presidential campaign.

That lump turned out to be stage II breast cancer, which was diagnosed in November 2004, the day after the general election.

Edwards got treated for her breast cancer in 2004-2005. First came chemotherapy to shrink the size of the tumor, followed by a lumpectomy (surgery to remove the tumor while saving as much of the breast as possible) and radiation therapy.

In March 2007, Edwards hurt a rib, and after getting an X-ray and other scans she learned that her breast cancer was back as stage IV breast cancer, the most advanced stage of the disease.

Edwards' breast cancer was in her bones, and perhaps also in her lungs and liver, though that wasn't certain at the time. In May 2009, Edwards told WebMD that the spot in the liver was "fairly inconsequential" and the spots in the lungs "turned out to be nothing."

Still, Edwards wrote in her 2009 memoir, Resilience, that her cancer "wasn't leaving. Not ever."

When cancer spreads to the bone, it's generally considered incurable but may be treatable.

When she talked to WebMD in 2009, Edwards said that to treat her stage IV breast cancer, she took a chemotherapy drug at home, another cancer drug intravenously every two weeks, and a third drug that helps protect the bones when cancer has spread to the bones.

Even so, Edwards didn't shy away from the fact that she could die of her cancer. And she voiced regret about not getting routine screening mammograms as often as recommended.

"I didn't get screened the way I should have," Edwards told WebMD in 2009. "As a result, I found out later than I could have" about the original cancer, Edwards added that not getting screened "does not change the reality. It only changes your options," as early diagnosis can make a difference in treatment.

But throughout her treatment, Edwards emphasized her life, not her risk of death.

She was passionate about her children and health care reform, and she said she didn't fear dying after living through the death of her first child, Wade, in a car accident in 1986, when Wade was 16.

Edwards is survived by her husband, John, her daughters, Cate and Emma Claire, and her son, Jack.

SOURCES: CNN.The Washington Post.The New York Times.WebMD Feature: "Elizabeth Edwards: Her Breast Cancer Experience."WebMD Health News: "Report: Sen. Edwards' Wife Has Breast Cancer."WebMD Health News: "New Approach Used for Edwards' Breast Cancer."WebMD Health News: "Elizabeth Edwards' Breast Cancer Back."

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