J Walking

“My MRI is on Thursday,” I said to Elizabeth Edwards a month ago.

“I go in for my next round of appointments in a couple weeks.” she said.

“Has everything been clear up till now?”

“Yeah,” she said, knocking on wood and saying, “Thank God.”

Elizabeth Edwards and I shared a common experience of overcoming dreaded disease. Hers was breast cancer. Mine was a brain tumor. We got each other.

I told her how one of my blog readers, a neuro-oncologist, had chided me because I had taken up professional bass fishing after my White House days. I was irresponsible, the doctor told me. I should be advocating for brain tumor patients. I told her I didn’t want to become known as “the brain tumor guy.”

She understood. Even though she wrote about her breast cancer recovery, she didn’t want to be the breast cancer woman either. She wanted to go on and live life. We left with a promise to pray for each other.

My MRI was fine. I’ve wondered how her tests had gone and smiled thinking no news was inevitably good news. Then this morning’s word that there would be a campaign announcement about her health. I knew what it was, what it had to be and I just stopped and images of needles and pills and chemo came flooding in…things I know too well.

I had no doubt about what would happen to the campaign. It would go on. She wouldn’t allow anything else. To quit the campaign would be to give in to the disease – it would be the ultimate admission of being the “cancer woman.”

I can’t imagine the conversations she had with her husband – except that I can. How much will the illness define us? How much will we become steely fighters? How much will we just withdraw from the spotlight and fight this illness alone, with friends? What if… What if these are the last days? What would we regret more…?

When I interviewed John Edwards a few weeks ago, he answered a question about the suffering he’d endured – the loss of a son, Elizabeth’s cancer – by saying that his faith had come “roaring back” in order for him to survive. We all need to pray for that roaring faith – for him, Elizabeth, and their children. We need to pray for healing for her. And for us? That this illness puts politics in perspective for more than the next news cycle. For the other candidates? That they focus more on issues of compassion.

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