Elizabeth Edwards
Charles Rex Arbogast  /  AP
"There are women in this audience who know perfectly well whether or not they’re doing what they need to do and get mammograms," Elizabeth Edwards said at a campaign town hall meeting for her husband, Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards, in Davenport, Iowa on April 4.
updated 4/5/2007 9:30:25 AM ET 2007-04-05T13:30:25

Elizabeth Edwards said Wednesday she feels she let down her family and the country by neglecting to get mammograms that could have caught her cancer earlier.

Mrs. Edwards — appearing with her husband, Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards, in their first trip to Iowa since announcing her cancer had returned — admonished women to get their mammograms.

She said she didn’t, and by the time she felt a lump in her breast in 2004 and was able to get it removed, it had grown to nine centimeters and the cancer had spread elsewhere.

“I do not have to be in this situation,” Mrs. Edwards told about 500 people at a banquet hall. “I am responsible for putting myself, this man, my family and, frankly, putting you all at risk, too, because I think you deserve the chance to vote for this man.”

Later, John Edwards said he knows his wife didn’t get mammograms because she isn’t in the habit of putting herself first.

“It’s not surprising to me that she would say that, but I think she’s being too hard on herself,” Edwards told The Associated Press.

Mrs. Edwards’ comments came in response to an audience member who asked her to spread the word about the importance of mammograms.

“It had the chance to migrate because I sat at home doing whatever I thought was important and didn’t get mammograms,” Mrs. Edwards said. “It wasn’t that I didn’t know. There are women in this audience who know perfectly well whether or not they’re doing what they need to do and get mammograms. If you are one of the people who knew but aren’t doing it, obviously you need a new strategy.

“Women often put themselves at the bottom (of the) list of things to do. When I put my health at the bottom of the list, I was putting him at the bottom of the list, my children at the bottom of the list, the country at the bottom of the list,” Mrs. Edwards said.

Mrs. Edwards found out two weeks ago that her breast cancer had spread to her rib bones. John Edwards and his wife announced the news at a press conference where they said it would not affect his decision to run for the White House.

Mrs. Edwards said Tuesday that she has received some good news on her first doctor’s visit since learning the cancer had spread: She has a type of cancer that is more likely to be controlled by anti-estrogen drugs.

She also expressed frustration with reports that she’s likely to die within five years. She said doctors can’t give her a reliable life expectancy and regardless she plans to fight the disease as hard as she can.

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