Saturday, September 15, 2007

MS, Cancer, Don't Stop Edwards or Romney Spouses

Both Ann Romney and Elizabeth Edwards are married to men who want to be president. One's a Republican, the other is a Democrat. They might wind up facing each other in the battle for the White House.

But the two women have forged a strong bond, one based on their shared challenges: both suffer from chronic diseases that will eventually kill them. Edwards has incurable breast cancer. Romney has multiple sclerosis, or MS.

But they're both on the campaign trail, and they both understand and support each other's courage and struggles. In this, perhaps Romney and Edwards give the greatest message about politics: in the end, it's all about people reaching out to people, not campaign carnage.

To follow her for a day on the campaign trail is to see an Elizabeth Edwards who looks the picture of health. Her hair is full, and her blue eyes as bright as ever. She has slimmed down since the 2004 campaign, but insists that is the hard earned badge of dieting, not disease. Still, every now and then, there comes a reminder. Before taking off her jacket recently in an uncomfortably warm living room in Bow, N.H., she asked a local television crew and a TIME photographer to move and shoot her from her left side, because her right arm is swollen from the treatment of her lymph nodes. Losing her train of thought in trying to answer a multi-part question someone asked her at a school in Manchester, she joked: "I call it chemo-brain; I could blame it on the fact that I'm 58."

When it comes to the never-ending debate over Elizabeth and John Edwards' decision to continue his campaign after her diagnosis with incurable breast cancer, much of the blame has been directed at her. In devoting herself to her husband's goal, was she ignoring what might be best for her children? Earlier this month, Edwards got into a public spat with a Clinton supporter, who had blogged that she was a "terrible mother." Elizabeth, a lifelong insomniac who spends her wakeful hours surfing the internet, came across the post and wrote back: "You don't get to judge me because you think you know exactly what you would do if you had my disease. I want to be really clear: you don't know."

But there is at least one person who did know. Ann Romney, who was diagnosed in 1998 with multiple sclerosis, called Elizabeth shortly after the Edwards made their announcement in March. "I totally understand why you're still fighting," Romney told her. "I totally get it."

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