Elizabeth Edwards, who garnered enormous public sympathy for coping with both cancer and her husband’s infidelity against the backdrop of the political stage, died Tuesday at the age of 61.
Edwards, a lawyer and best-selling author, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 during the final days of that year’s presidential campaign, when her husband was the Democratic vice presidential nominee.
She went into remission after surgery and a lengthy treatment process, but the cancer recurred in 2007 when John Edwards was planning a run for the White House.
She died early Tuesday morning at her Chapel Hill, N.C., home, according to reports.
"Today we have lost the comfort of Elizabeth's presence, but she remains the heart of this family," her family said in a statement. "We love her and will never know anyone more inspiring or full of life. On behalf of Elizabeth, we want to express our gratitude to the thousands of kindred spirits who moved and inspired her along the way. Your support and prayers touched our entire family."
Doctors decided to cease Edwards's treatment this week after they discovered her cancer had spread to her liver.
She posted a Facebook message to friends on Monday, writing: “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."
Edwards's fight with breast cancer played out in the public sphere, and she quickly became a national advocate for healthcare and women's issues.
She went to Capitol Hill in the midst of the 2009 healthcare reform debate to testify on the rise of bankruptcies related to healthcare costs. She also made frequent media appearances to speak out on behalf of cancer awareness.
Her illness also played into her husband's political career. When the disease re-emerged in March 2007, the couple decided that John Edwards would continue his presidential run and that Elizabeth would remain active on the campaign trail.
After his failed presidential bid, it was made public he had an extramarital affair with Rielle Hunter, a former aide, during the campaign. The couple legally separated.
Edwards discussed her battle with cancer in her best-selling memoir, Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers. She followed that with another book, Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities.
She made numerous appearances to discuss her personal life and advocate for cancer research.
She is survived by her three children: Cate, Emma Claire and Jack. The Edwards’ oldest son, Wade, died in a car accident in 1996. His death prompted the couple to enter the political arena. Elizabeth Edwards was considered a savvy political strategist and one of her husband’s closest advisers.
Statements of sympathy poured in from the political world.
President Obama said he offered his condolences to her family.
“Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Elizabeth Edwards. This afternoon I spoke to Cate Edwards and John Edwards, and offered our family’s condolences. I came to know and admire Elizabeth over the course of the presidential campaign. She was a tenacious advocate for fixing our healthcare system and fighting poverty, and our country has benefited from the voice she gave to the cause of building a society that lifts up all those left behind. In her life, Elizabeth Edwards knew tragedy and pain. Many others would have turned inward; many others in the face of such adversity would have given up. But through all that she endured, Elizabeth revealed a kind of fortitude and grace that will long remain a source of inspiration. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends,” he said in a statement.
Vice President Biden praised her courage.
"Elizabeth Edwards fought a brave battle against a terrible, ravaging disease that takes too many lives every day. She was an inspiration to all who knew her, and to those who felt they knew her. Jill and I extend our deepest sympathies to the Edwards family as they grieve during this difficult and painful time," he said in a statement.
Sen. John KerryJohn KerryQueen Elizabeth resting 'for a few days' after hospital stay Twenty-four countries say global net-zero goal will fuel inequality Queen Elizabeth recognizes Kerry from video message: 'I saw you on the telly' MORE (D-Mass.), who picked John Edwards to be his running mate in the 2004 presidential race, had warm words for her.
“This is very sad news, and the fact that it isn’t a surprise makes it no easier to hear. Elizabeth Edwards was an incredibly loving, giving and devoted mother, and Teresa and our entire family are grateful for the time we shared getting to know her in 2004. We have many wonderful memories of those days traveling the country and seeing firsthand Elizabeth’s great affection for Cate, Jack and Emma Claire. ... Teresa and I, along with our family, send our prayers and deepest sympathies to Elizabeth’s family and the children she loved so much," he said in a statement.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin tweeted Tuesday night: "Very sorry for Elizabeth Edward's family. May God comfort her kids, especially, through this tough time. God bless her family & loved ones."
The Edwards family is requesting that memorial donations be made to the Wade Edwards Foundation.
-- This was originally posted at 4:52 p.m. and updated at 6:54 p.m. and 7:35 p.m.