Elizabeth Edwards comes to grips with her terminal cancer. And it's sad, realistic, and surprisingly empowering

I am an admirer of Elizabeth Edwards. I've had the honor of meeting her on several occasions and I have found her to be amazingly articulate, informed, compassionate, and kind. It was my not-so-secret hope that she would run for president back when she was campaigning for her husband.

She's been through a lot, this cancer survivor and wife of a man who was outed for a scandalous affair that put a very public fissure in the middle of what seemed to be an ideal marriage and partnership. Some people criticized her, first for staying with her husband and then for publishing her account and opinions of the whole mess.

When I read those critiques, it angered me. And it reminded me of something Elizabeth Edwards wrote several years ago in response to a blogger who bashed her for taking her kids on the campaign trail (that post has since been removed, but this account explains what happened). I wrote for the blog at the time and was shocked at how harshly the blogger, who I knew only online, judged Elizabeth Edwards choices. But Elizabeth Edwards, who is tech-savvy and responsive, reacted with aplomb and centeredness. In the comments, she wrote something about how we all make choices that serve our families in the best way we know how, and that it was her prayer that this blogger would never, ever have to walk a mile in her shoes.

It was a deep breath in the midst of great tension. How could you argue with an intelligent, ambitious woman who wanted to support her husband's pursuit of the presidency? How could argue with a mother who had survived the loss of one son and an agonizing battle with cancer and wanted to take every opportunity to keep her family close? As that blogger -- and others did -- you clearly can argue with it, but Elizabeth Edwards' response showed she had that all together for herself, regardless of what they said.

Once the world knew about her infidelity, I ached for Elizabeth Edwards. Of course, I do not know the intimate details of their relationship -- who could? -- and I have not walked that full mile in her shoes. I have, however, walked part of that same journey and I would not wish that on anyone else, not even the people who said she was wrong for her choices that time around. Our decisions were very different, but I related. And I applauded her for a blunt "this is my truth" kind of message to Oprah and the others who tuned in to her interviews and read her book.

When I read today that Elizabeth Edwards, pictured looking worn and still determined, said that she has come to grips with the fact that she will probably not overcome her cancer, I felt that ache rise up again. I also felt a sense of peace and inspiration from her admission.

"Cancer will probably win," she said in an interview. "Why would I give it any more days than it may already take? That's the choice I make."

I would imagine that Elizabeth Edwards has an intimate understanding of the cancer that was first discovered in her body in 5 years ago. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, her treatment included a lumpectomy and radiation. In 2007, the cancer returned in an inoperable condition, settled into her bones.

An outspoken woman of faith, Elizabeth Edwards says that she has surrendered the idea that God will cure her. Instead, she says she chooses to believe God will help fuel her strength in the days ahead. She is using those days to advocate for cancer research, write, speak, and mother her three children.

Of course, we all want to know if John Edwards is a part of this all as she turns the pages to this chapter of her life.

With the same forthright steadiness she once used to speak back to a critical blogger and in an interview with Oprah, she says he has, in fact supported her throughout her illness and it is her hope that he will continue to be there.

"John said, 'Perhaps not the great love story that we hoped, but maybe a great love story nonetheless.' [It's] 'till death do you part -- because that's what I want," she said.

Who knows what they've worked out? And what led to this announcement that her cancer has advanced beyond her hopes and possibly, medical control? Perhaps those details are too private for the public to know, even from a woman and a couple who has spent so much time in the spotlight.

Once again, in the sadness of the situation and the tension of a 60-year-old woman who has given it up to God or biology or being realistic or whatever is at work here, I am watching and reading with great respect.

This is the reality of my life, she seems to say over and over, and I will live it as best as I can.

That's not a quote from her, but it is what I am hearing. I may not make the same choices, I may not have the same attitude. But I can only admire the way she is living and has lived her days knowing how the end of them will likely come.

My questions for you are:
Does Elizabeth Edwards' attitude and spirit make her an icon for living well in spite of illness and tough circumstances?

Can facing the reality of a terminal illness be just as empowering as being eternally optimistic?

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[photo credit: Peter Kramer/Getty Images Entertainment]