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Media circus over wife's cancer

17th April 2007

The unpredictability of cancer may partly explain the media obsession with the wife of a presidential candidate, writes Douglas Kamerow in the British Medical Journal.

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The media has examined, dissected and debated the news of Elizabeth Edwards' recurring breast cancer endlessly, the journal's US editor says.

Some have criticised the couple's decision to continue in the presidential race, while others have lauded their courage. Elizabeth Edwards says her cancer has metastatised, but that it is controllable.

"Mrs Edwards responded by saying that all of us are dying; her only difference is that she now knows what she will die from. She wants to be seen as living with cancer rather than dying from it, and to her the only choice is whether to "push forward or start dying'," Kamerow writes.

He says the furore stems partly from the fact that Americans are obsessed with the domestic affairs of their political leaders. "Nothing that Hillary Rodham Clinton does as a candidate for president engenders greater interest and attention than her role as wronged wife during her husband's presidency," he says.

But the fact that Elizabeth Edwards' cancer is a recurrence rather than an initial diagnosis is also highly significant, he adds.

"It is commonplace to hear about a celebrity with breast cancer who undergoes treatment and announces that she is cured. Recurrence, however, is not part of the public drill."

The political and media circus of carefully scripted public relations performances gets spooked by words like 'metastases', and the implications that the outcome for this now very public couple isn't predictable.

He concludes: "There is clearly something very special about Elizabeth Edwards...[In a similar situation], at least some of us, myself included, would hope for her strength and grace."


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