By Mike Baker Associated Press
RALEIGH, N.C. — Elizabeth Edwards stood faithfully by her husband even after she learned he had an affair on the campaign trail while she battled cancer. She recently described the “slow process” of trying to rebuild her trust in John.
Her struggle to reconcile the marriage appeared to be near its end with word on Wednesday that she and her husband of more than 30 years have separated.
The news came a week after John Edwards admitted to being the father of a child with his mistress, Rielle Hunter, and as details emerged from a book by a former aide describing the lengths the former presidential candidate took to try hiding his misdeeds from his wife, family and the American public.
Elizabeth Edwards, 60, declined to comment through a friend, Andrea Purse, who confirmed the separation. However, Elizabeth’s sister told The Associated Press that she remains strong.
“She’s doing as well as you could expect,” Nancy Anania said. “I’m really proud of her that, somehow, she’s got strength that you rarely see in a person.”
John Edwards issued a brief statement Wednesday, expressing care for the mother of four of his children.
“It is an extraordinarily sad moment, but I love my children more than anything and still care deeply about Elizabeth,” he said.
Purse did not reveal how long the couple has been apart. North Carolina law typically requires couples to be separated for a year before divorcing.
It’s another wrenching twist for a couple that had previously weathered the death of a 16-year-old son and Elizabeth’s ongoing battle with incurable cancer.
They were law school sweethearts who got married just days after they took the bar exam together in the summer of 1977. Though John Edwards, 56, later went on to make millions as a trial lawyer, the couple had humble beginnings: He had to borrow money from her parents for a one-night honeymoon. She always wore her $11 wedding ring. For years they spent their anniversaries going to Wendy’s, just as they did on their first one.
Former aide Andrew Young initially claimed in the weeks leading up to the crucial presidential primaries that he was the father of Hunter’s child. Young’s upcoming book details how Edwards went to great lengths to hide the affair.
In excerpts from an ABC News interview, Young said that Edwards asked him to find a doctor who might fake a paternity test and asked him to steal a diaper from the baby, now almost 2, to determine whether it was really his. He also claims that the married couple sought to politicize her cancer diagnosis.
The statement released on behalf of Elizabeth Edwards said she will not engage in a dialogue on “false charges” in the book.
“Based on the limited portions of the book that have been made available, it is clear it contains many falsehoods and exaggerations,” she said. She responded to one point, saying the suggestion that she capitalized on her cancer is “unconscionable, hurtful and patently false.”
Elizabeth Edwards has an incurable form of cancer that returned in 2007 as the couple was campaigning for the presidency. She said last week that her health got worse for a period but recently has been improving. She declined at the time to discuss her marital status.
John Edwards, a former North Carolina senator and 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate, has largely stayed secluded since first admitting the affair in August 2008. He denied fathering a child with Hunter at that time. He has acknowledged a federal investigation into his campaign finances.