Elizabeth Edwards talks resilience in Vail Valley | VailDaily.com

Elizabeth Edwards talks resilience in Vail Valley

Melanie Wong
Vail Valley, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyElizabeth Edwards, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, addresses Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group Luncheon participants about her fight with the disease, healthcare and life. Edwards signed copies of her book "Resilience" before speaking at the luncheon Tuesday at Gerald Ford Hall in Beaver Creek.

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Standing before a roomful of people in Beaver Creek’s Ford Hall, Elizabeth Edwards told the Vail Valley that she spoke not as a celebrity or cancer hero, but as a mother, sister and daughter.

“I feel like a representative of all of us,” said Edwards, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 right before the election in which her husband, John, was running for vice president. “All the celebrity I have is a matter of circumstance.”

And those circumstances have tried and tested her. It’s an experience she talks about in her book, “Resilience,” in which she reflects on her fight with cancer, the death of her 16-year-old son Wade in a car accident and the much publicized infidelity of her husband while on the campaign trail.

“(After Wade’s death) is when I had to accept that there would always be things in my life that are out of my control,” she told the crowd at the 15th annual Celebration of Life Luncheon held by the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group. “That helped me deal with my cancer.”

She recalled being in Wisconsin while helping her husband campaign, finding the tumor and being diagnosed days later.

Edwards said she was overwhelmed by the response she received from all over the world after she went public with her cancer. She received 60,000 e-mails and 30,000 letters, she said.

She spoke of the importance of that kind of support for cancer patients, how she didn’t let cancer paralyze her or define who she was, and the need for health care reform that will provide treatment for more women.

While Edwards was clear that her focus is on the future, and that she believes that the key is having the right perspective, she is also keenly aware of her mortality. After rounds of treatment, she was told in 2007 that her cancer had metastasized, spreading to her bones.

“Every pain, every bump is a reminder of who ultimately is going to win,” she said. “I know I’ll die much sooner than I want to die. My family will have another casket to choose, and they will put me in the ground, and I won’t be there to comfort them like I was with Wade.”

However, she said she was also a firm believer in living for each day.

“Cancer, you may have me in your grip, but I’m still here, and I’m still fighting,” she said. “We write our own story everyday. The day we stop living is the day we start dying. Whatever our prognosis is, today we’re alive, and today we can live.

Edwards was the main speaker for the luncheon, which was attended by about 480 people, the biggest attendance the event has had so far in its 15 years, said awareness group board member Kristin Williams.

The event also included a silent auction and book signing by Edwards. All the money the group raises is spent locally, said Brenda Himelfarb, president of the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group.

The group has raised $75,000 for the breast imaging center at the Shaw Cancer Center in Edwards, and has pledged $50,000 toward the center’s new PET/CT scanner. The group also gives money toward treatment and support to individual women with breast cancer in the valley.

Attendees of the luncheon called Edwards an inspiration and a brave example.

“There are unfortunate parts about living a very public life, but on the other hand we’re able to observe a woman who is so valiantly living with stage 4 cancer,” Williams said. “We can have a greater understanding of what resilience really means.”

The group’s co-founder, Patti Weinstein, said she was humbled by the event’s turnout and touched by Edwards’ story.

“She was brave enough to share her story, and she was open,” she said. “That’s such a unique gift because it taught all of us and made us stop and think about what is really important.”

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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