In the final days of the 2004 campaign, Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, learned that she had breast cancer. In her inspiring new memoir Saving Graces (Broadway), Edwards reflects, with her trademark frankness, on her battle with the disease as well as the death 10 years earlier of their son Wade in a freak auto accident. Edwards spoke with TIME's Andrea Sachs about her health, her family's wealth and the possibility of John Edwards in '08.
Why did you delay treatment until after the election?
Coming out and saying "I have breast cancer" would have been met with a lot of skepticism about our trying to manipulate the electorate. I had assurances that this delay was not going to adversely affect my health.
How's your health now?
It is as good as any 57-year-old mother with two young children could possibly be. I'm a little tired, but I'm apparently cancer free, and that's the big thing.
Some people say that if your husband had been at the top of the ticket in 2004, he could have beaten George W. Bush.
It would be hard for me to say that I didn't think that was true. John was exactly the counterpoint we needed because the President had portrayed himself as somebody in touch with the guy on the corner. What you needed to show the falsity of that was to have somebody who really was in touch with the guy on the corner, who really understood the lives of people who work in factories, people who struggle, people who live middle-class lives built around their children, Saturday or Sunday soccer, and Friday-night football.
Was John Kerry's privileged background a problem?
I'd be telling you things that weren't true if I said that he didn't have an impediment. He did. He was certainly able to be painted as someone who didn't understand what people did with their free time or what their concerns were when they sat around the table. But I don't think that if you looked at his policies you would have found that to be a fair conclusion.
You write about the Kerrys' plush lifestyle. How would you describe yours?
It's a different kind of luxury, I think. I know the people whose artwork is on my walls--they're not the old masters. I shop at Target. We eat at Wendy's. Even though we have a lot and I feel very blessed, we are basically the same people we were when we first started out and made, between us, $28,000 a year.
What advice do you have for parents who lose a child?
You don't want to make decisions in those first awful moments that are going to make 10 years down the road harder. If you can't stand to see his things or her things, ask a friend to hold them for you. Maybe you'll never ask for them again. But there may come a day when you'd like to see her second-grade paper or a poem he wrote when he was a sophomore.
It looks like your husband will run for President again. What factors are in play?
He's very seriously considering running. One [factor] is my health. He said that if the cancer recurred-- we actually had a scare this fall that turned out not to be anything--he would do what he did before, and draw himself into making me better.
What's the hardest part of campaigning?