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Edwards says wife’s cancer has returned, but he will continue campaign

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Democrat John Edwards is forging ahead with his second bid for the presidency despite the sobering news that his wife, Elizabeth, is battling an incurable reappearance of cancer.
    The presidential candidate revealed the closely guarded prognosis — even family friends and some senior campaign staff were unaware — at a news conference Thursday, his wife by his side in the hotel garden where they held their wedding reception 30 years ago.
    Putting to rest speculation about his political future, Edwards told reporters: ‘‘The campaign goes on. The campaign goes on strongly.’’
    The recurrence of the cancer — this time on Elizabeth Edwards’ bone — presents a setback for the couple, both personally and politically. Elizabeth Edwards’ illness and treatment is certain to affect her husband’s presence in the early voting states and may raise questions about the viability of his campaign, especially with financial backers. The first fundraising deadline is fast approaching on March 31.
    But both said the cancer was treatable and that they would stick with their plans to campaign vigorously for the nomination.
    ‘‘From our perspective, there was no reason to stop,’’ Edwards said. ‘‘I don’t think we seriously thought about it.’’
    Her health problems already have impacted the campaign. Edwards had canceled a Tuesday evening house party in Iowa to go with his wife to a doctor’s appointment. His campaign had described it as a follow-up to a routine test she had Monday.
    Faced with questions about how his wife’s illness will affect the campaign, Edwards said he will pursue the presidency, but: ‘‘Any time, any place I need to be with Elizabeth I will be there — period.’’
    Mrs. Edwards, 57, was first diagnosed with cancer in the final weeks of the 2004 campaign. The day after Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and Edwards, his running mate, conceded the election to George W. Bush, Edwards announced that his wife had invasive ductal cancer, the most common type of breast cancer, and would undergo treatment.
    Mrs. Edwards underwent several months of radiation and chemotherapy for the lump in her breast. Her husband’s campaign has said she had recovered from the illness.
    ‘‘I don’t look sickly, I don’t feel sickly. I am as ready as any person can be for that,’’ she said at the news conference.
    John Edwards said a biopsy of her rib had showed that the cancer had returned. A broken rib prompted the closer examination.
    Elizabeth Edwards said she injured her back trying to move a heavy chest in her home. When her husband came home, he gave her a hug that hurt and as she twisted out of his grip, she said she heard a pop. The broken rib is on her left side while the rib where the cancer was detected is on the right.
    The bone is one of the most common places where breast cancer spreads, and once it does so it is not considered curable.
    But how long women survive depends on how widespread the cancer is in the bone, and many can survive for years. The longer it takes for cancer to spread after the initial tumor, the better the prognosis. She was diagnosed in 2004.
    Chemotherapy and radiation are standard treatments, along with use of drugs that specifically target the bones called bisphosphonates. Other treatments include hormone therapy if the cancer is responsive to estrogen.
    ‘‘I will have what will be a less debilitating kind of chemotherapy ... for the rest of my life,’’ Elizabeth Edwards said.
    Dr. Lisa Carey, Elizabeth Edwards’ physician, said that initial tests showed some very small suspicious spots elsewhere, but that the therapy focus would be on the bone. Asked where else, she said ‘‘possibly involving the lung.’’
    Carey spoke to reporters following the Edwardses news conference.
    The couple, married 30 years, have a grown daughter, Cate, and two young children, Emma Claire and Jack. Their teenage son, Wade, died in 1996 when high winds swept his Jeep off a North Carolina highway.
    ‘‘We’ve been confronted with these kind of traumas and struggles already in our life,’’ Edwards said. ‘‘When this happens you have a choice — you can go and cower in the corner or you can go out there and be tough.’’
    Elizabeth Edwards added: ‘‘We’re always going to look for the silver lining — it’s who we are as people.’’
    The news about the cancer’s return and the decision to keep the campaign going was a closely held secret, with family friends and senior campaign advisers unaware of the diagnosis until the Edwardses news conference.
    John Moylan, a senior adviser who runs Edwards’ campaign in South Carolina, said he learned the news by watching it on television.
    ‘‘This was a very private decision about a very private matter,’’ the attorney from Columbia, S.C., said. ‘‘It was the best way to handle it.’’
    Edwards is running in the top tier of Democratic presidential candidates. Polls show Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama ahead of him, but he is making a strong showing in Iowa, site of the nation’s first presidential caucus. To emphasize his commitment to the race, Edwards said he was leaving North Carolina to go to New York, Boston and later California — all big fundraising locales.
    New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a rival for the nomination, said he and his wife offered their prayers, and in a telephone call to The Associated Press, added: ‘‘If there is one message here, it should be that we should all redouble our efforts to lick that deadly disease.’’
    Another rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, also said Edwards was in her prayers.
    ‘‘I admire her optimism and strength in the face of adversity, and I look forward to seeing them both on the campaign trail,’’ Clinton said in a statement.
    At the White House, press secretary Tony Snow said ‘‘our prayers are with you.’’
    ‘‘As somebody who has been through this, Elizabeth Edwards is setting a powerful example for a lot of people — and good and positive one,’’ said Snow, who had his colon removed in 2005 and underwent six months of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with colon cancer.
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