Elizabeth. Oh, Elizabeth.
Just yesterday, we heard that Elizabeth Edwards had made the decision to stop chemo. Just yesterday, we – my family – made the same decision to stop chemo. To stop the treatment that may be saving my life because it was taking too much of a toll on my body. For fifteen weeks, I’ve been faithfully taking a chemo pill designed to sweep my body clean of any stray cancer cells left after this spring’s surgery and this summer’s radiation treatments. We had hoped to finish the treatment with three more weeks, but it was not to be. I’m too tired. I’m in too much pain. My body isn’t getting a break, and it isn’t getting a chance to heal.
Like Elizabeth, I have two young children. Mine are 3 and 6, about the same age as hers were when she was first diagnosed, but mine are veterans of the cancer treatment dance after more than three years of treatment, remission, and recurrence. My children come to the hospital with me for checkups and blood draws. They wait patiently during physical therapy appointments, playing with matchbox cars as the scar tissue is ripped off my chest and I work to regain function in my arms. They help me pull my lymphedema sleeves on in the morning, settle for quiet playdates instead of park and museum adventures, and have adjusted to quiet, easy pets like fish instead of boisterous puppies as we had planned. They cuddle with me in the afternoons when I have no energy, and happily share their legos and playdoh when I do. They are my constant companions, my joy, my loves, and my reasons for living.
And when the little one woke me in the dark of night worried about monsters outside his window, I held him and comforted him and sobbed and sobbed, as I thought about Elizabeth’s children – and my own - and how no child should ever have his mother taken from him because of cancer.
Not hers. Not mine. Not the women that we’ve lost this year or the women we’ll lose next year. Cancer is a thief that separates mothers from children and tears our world apart, one mother, one child at a time. The grief that we feel at losing Elizabeth Edwards, mother, daughter, advocate, and friend, is real, even if we never met her, because she has showed us the depth of a mother’s love for her children, a love that keeps them close and touches us with its strength – and yet, she was taken from them anyway. If she couldn’t triumph over cancer, how can we?