Elizabeth Edwards, the high-profile wife of former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards, died of cancer at 61 in her home in North Carolina on Tuesday, a family friend said.
The attorney, author and healthcare campaigner inspired Americans as she battled cancer while serving as a top adviser on her husband’s subsequent 2008 campaign, all the while secretly grappling with his marital infidelity.
On Monday Edwards said she had stopped treatment for cancer after doctors informed her that any further therapy would be useless.
US President Barack Obama offered his condolences, hailing Edwards as a “tenacious advocate for fixing our healthcare system and fighting poverty.”
“Through all that she endured, Elizabeth revealed a kind of fortitude and grace that will long remain a source of inspiration,” he said in a statement.
Edwards had first noticed a lump on her breast during the 2004 campaign, but kept the news a secret until it ended with former US president George W. Bush defeating her husband and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
She received surgery and treatment for the disease over the next few months and the cancer went into remission before surfacing again in 2007, when her husband was mounting another campaign for the White House.
The two insisted they would press ahead in spite of the disease, and Edwards went on to serve as a top political adviser and spokesperson for her husband, particularly on the hot-button issue of healthcare reform.
Americans only learned later that her husband had cheated on her with a campaign filmmaker while he was preparing his second White House run and that she had learned of the affair years earlier.
John Edwards went public with the affair in August 2008, and in January of this year admitted to fathering a child with the filmmaker.
Edwards said her husband had told her of the affair in 2006 and that she viewed it as a painful, but private, issue.
She went on to write about her struggle with cancer and her husband’s infidelity in last year’s bestselling memoir Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities.
The couple were no strangers to tragedy. In 1996, their 16-year-old son Wade was killed in a car accident.
US media outlets said that Edwards’ family had gathered around her in her final hours, including her husband, who had moved back to help care for her.
“The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered,” Edwards said in what became a parting message on her Facebook page on Monday. “We know that. And, yes, there are certainly times when we aren’t able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It’s called being human.”