Elizabeth Edwards said Tuesday that she got some good news: She has a type of cancer that is more likely to be controlled by anti-estrogen drugs.
Mrs. Edwards, wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, 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 even if they could, the information would be of no comfort to her.
“I don’t care,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press as she campaigned with her husband. “I’m going to fight exactly as hard if they tell me that I’ve got 15 years or if I’ve got 30 years. I’m still going to fight to get rid of this — if they tell me I’ve got 15 minutes I’m still going to fight. It doesn’t matter what the prognosis is. So it’s not an important piece of information to me.”
The Edwardses announced nearly two weeks ago that the breast cancer she thought she had beaten with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy had spread to her bone. They said they had no intention of ending his bid because doctors told her that although she’s likely to die from the disease eventually, the campaign wouldn’t interfere with her treatment.
Mrs. Edwards had her first post-diagnosis doctor’s visit Friday and emerged encouraged. She said her doctor expected she had the most aggressive “triple-negative” cancer, but testing found that she had two of the three key hormonal receptors — estrogen and progesterone. She said her the original diagnosis was “slightly estrogen heavy,” but this time it’s a strong marker and she also has the second marker.
“I consider that a good sign,” Mrs. Edwards said in an interview in an art classroom before appearing with her husband at the Prairie High School gymnasium. “It means there are more medications which I can expect to be responsive.”
Mrs. Edwards, pointing out a large bruise on the back of her hand and another on her forearm from her IV, said she got an initial course of a bone-building drug. She’s also taking Femara, an aromatase inhibitor, but is not undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
She said the development of drugs like Femara is one of many reasons that reports that she’s likely to die within five years are not accurate.
“Femara didn’t exist five years ago,” she said. “I don’t expect to get yesterday’s medicine. If I can help it, I’d like to get tomorrow’s medicine.”
Several news organization have reported an American Cancer Society statistic that says the five-year survival rate for Stage IV breast cancer that spread to other organs is just 26 percent. But the cancer society put out a statement saying that is not applicable in her case because it only applies when a woman initially walks into a doctor’s office with Stage IV breast cancer, not when she had treatment and the cancer later spread.
There are few good estimates of survival time for these patients. Treatment is easiest if the recurrence is limited to the breast area, and survival is much shorter if the cancer spreads aggressively to vital organs like the liver, lungs or brain.
The bone seems to be somewhere in the middle. A subset of patients with estrogen receptor-positive tumors that appear in only the bone have a good chance at surviving for 10 years, according to Dr. Julia Smith, head of the New York University Cancer Institutes’ breast cancer prevention program.
Mrs. Edwards said she’s marking 10 years as her “bottom line.”
“But even then I’m not happy,” she said. “I’m 67 in 10 years. That’s not enough. I’ve got more stuff to do.”