On the face of it, they’re as different as night and day.
Elizabeth Edwards is the wife of John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president who’s now in the 2008 presidential race. At 57, the retired lawyer has two young children and a grown daughter. The couple’s teenage son was killed in a car accident in 1996.
Ellen Craswell, 74, was the Republican candidate for governor in 1996. A conservative who invoked firm Christian beliefs throughout her campaign, she was soundly defeated by Gary Locke. Craswell and her husband, Bruce, live in Poulsbo and delight in their 14 grandchildren.
Poles apart philosophically, they have in common the daunting experience of cancer. Both women have battled the disease against a public and political backdrop.
John Edwards announced Thursday that his wife’s breast cancer, first diagnosed in 2004, has recurred and is in her bones. Despite the stunning news, Edwards vowed to continue his campaign. “It goes on strongly,” he said.
Craswell knows plenty about forging on. Twice, she was diagnosed with cancer. Twice, she endured surgery and chemotherapy.
“The kind I had in 1982 was ovarian cancer,” Craswell said Friday. “When I had it, I didn’t realize how few people live through ovarian cancer.”
First elected to the Legislature in 1976, Craswell spent two terms in the House and four in the state Senate. “Chemo was a little different back in 1982. I’d be in the hospital for treatment on Monday, home sick on Tuesday, and back in Olympia by Wednesday,” she said.
In 1996, a week after her defeat in the governor’s race, a lump in Craswell’s right thigh was diagnosed as cancer. She had liposarcoma, a malignant fatty tumor. “I was quite shocked. I didn’t know anything was wrong,” she said.
Treated at the University of Washington Medical Center, Craswell had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. “They told me if it had happened 20 years earlier, they would have had to cut off my leg,” she said.
Craswell’s faith was her rock. “I knew there’s a purpose in whatever happens. God uses everything for good,” she said.
After the Edwardses’ announcement, I read comments critical of the decision to keep campaigning. Elizabeth Mehren, a Boston University journalism professor who covered John Edwards for the Los Angeles Times in 2004, was among the critics. “Wouldn’t you think this is a time when they would want to be home together savoring every moment?” Mehren told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday.
Craswell isn’t among the critics. After her diagnosis in 1996, she said, “I held a press conference because I didn’t want rumors going around.”
She was overwhelmed by kindness that came from across the political spectrum. “Letters came in huge black plastic bags. Every day they were coming,” Craswell said. “As I rested in my easy chair, I would read those wonderful letters.”
Locke sent Craswell flowers and a note that said, “Mona and I are praying for you,” the Associated Press reported in 1996.
Craswell became aware of the punch the “C” word packs. People may have any number of life-threatening conditions, “but it’s different with cancer,” Craswell said. “They’re saving so many more people now.”
In 2005, Lance Armstrong pledged $1 million to cancer survivor programs through New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The champion bicyclist had testicular cancer. Mary McCabe, director of Sloan-Kettering’s Cancer Survivorship Program, said in 2005 that there are more than 10 million cancer survivors in the United States.
My daughter, now 24, was treated for thyroid cancer at age 19. A college counselor suggested she quit school for six months. She ignored the advice and took midterm exams nine days after surgery.
Millions of us understood it when John Edwards said: “Other than sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves, there was no reason to stop.”
And Elizabeth Edwards? No matter who wins the White House, she wins our hearts.
Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.