As someone who has done my own dance with breast cancer, I had my own reasons to be stopped short when I learned yesterday that Elizabeth Edwards had suffered a recurrence. But, more than that, my concern came from reading about her initial cancer diagnosis and the death of her son in "Saving Graces: Finding Strength and Solace from Friends and Strangers." It seems as if the wife of 2004 vice-presidential candidate (and now 2008 presidential candidate) John Edwards has already had her fair share of sadness -- and now this.
On the Edwards for President website Elizabeth Edwards says her three favorite books are Eudora Welty's "Optimist's Daughter," Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird," and Henry James's "Portrait of a Lady." Fitting books, all, for a survivor who says in her book that, for her, cancer is small potatoes compared to losing a child.
A brand-new book for cancer patients that catches Edawrds's spirit and might help her with this new fight is "Living Time: Faith and Facts to Transform Your Cancer Journey," by Dr. Bernadine Healy. Cardiologist and former American Red Cross president Healy, diagnosed with brain cancer in 1999, dsecribes what she calls the "dark valley" from both sides. She, like Edwards, took comfort in religious faith and also in literature: While having a platelet transfusion one day, she says, she read "Memoirs of a Geisha" and took comfort in the novel's final lines: "But now I know that our world is no more permanent than a wave rising on the ocean. Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper."
Funny how what's happening to people we don't even know can affect us when we've "met" them in a book. I know that this one hits home for you -- and, unfortunately, millions of other women who have faced down various stages of breast cancer. I have read the Lamott and the James, but now Edwards makes me want to make the Welty the next on my list.
Meanwhile, I hope someone puts Betty Rollin's new book, "Here's the Bright Side: Of Failure, Fear, Cancer, Divorce and Other Bum Raps," in her hands. As you know, Rollins, who was an NBC News correspondent, was the first to write an honest book about getting cancer back back in 1976 when people never talked about such things in public. "First, You Cry" inspired all sorts of folks who made a difference in how we talk about breast cancer and mastectomies, including Betty Ford.