So, more thoughts on this John Edwards/cancer thing. Last Thursday, it was publicly announced that Elizabeth Edwards had breast cancer which had returned and that it was essentially incurable, although treatable. The political world waited to see what the couple would do, and John announced that he would continue his presidential campaign, with her support. Was this the right decision? I’m sort of struggling with it, but my gut instinct is no.
Now, let it be understood that my discussion of the issue is made without any knowledge, whatsoever, of her medical condition beyond official campaign statements. I don’t know how bad her cancer really is and what the prognosis is, although it is clear that the cancer has spread to her bones. This type of cancer can be treated, but it cannot be cured, and it can also sometimes proceed very rapidly and very aggressively. If she is treating it, and I assume she is, Elizabeth Edwards is in for a rough few months here.
I also have not personally had cancer, so I don’t know what it is like to live with on a daily basis. People I have known with cancer have not had an easy time of it, though. Most of the treatments are toxic, and are accompanied by nausea and lethargy. Cancer is uncomfortable, unpleasant, and emotionally stressful.
I think that Elizabeth Edwards is not being fair to herself or her husband. It is probable that she will be separated from her husband for much of the campaign because treatment would make it difficult for her to travel. When she does appear, these appearances may be accompanied by intense physical discomfort and pain. It is conventional for candidates to be accompanied by their wives at least some of the time, and for wives to actively campaign for their spouses. I’m not sure that she will be capable of this…and she should not have to focus on her husband’s campaign when her health should be more important. Will she compromise her treatment by campaigning with him?
I understand the “life must go on” attitude, and the idea that the cancer should not be allowed to win. However, Edwards could run again in 2012, if that’s what he wants to do. I think that as a family and as people, they would probably be better served by suspending the campaign. Burying reality in the flurry of an emotionally grueling political campaign does not seem terribly healthy, to me.
If Edwards won the nomination, which I don’t think he will, I also do not think that he would be a great candidate for the Democrats right now. I would not feel comfortable voting for a President with a seriously ill/dying/dead wife, because his focus would rightly be on his wife, not on the country as a whole. I know how losing someone close to you alters your job performance, daily life, and ability to function. I do not think that a grieving President would be good for America.
I also think that pushing on with the campaign may actually put Edwards in a negative light, because it makes him look rather callous and greedy. While these emotions may not be motivating him, I think it would be understandable for voters to think that, especially voters who have dealt personally with cancers and terminal illness. Is he willing to take that risk, and potentially destroy his entire political career?
Ultimately, I’m sure that the Edwards are consulting political professionals, Elizabeth’s doctors, and people close to them, rather than random people who don’t know them. But I hope they have looked deep into their hearts while thinking about this issue as well.