Elizabeth Edwards said Saturday that her passion for reforming the nation's health care system has been "a great refuge" for her during the recent turmoil over her husband's extramarital affair.
Edwards, who has incurable breast cancer, also said medical tests this week showed that her condition hadn't worsened since March of 2007, when she and her husband, former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, announced her cancer had returned and spread to her bones.
Edwards was interviewed at the New Yorker Festival by medical writer and surgeon Atul Gawande, who asked how she was managing to continue speaking out publicly on health care, given the turmoil in her personal life.
"Partly by plowing through, like I intend to do with your question, as well," she said, to laughter and applause from the audience.
"The ability to speak out doesn't require a particular skill. It requires one thing — passion about what you believe in. And that passion has been a really great refuge for me," she said.
No spread of cancer
On her medical condition, Edwards said doctors don't believe the cancer has spread to her lungs or her liver.
"It hasn't really changed since March 2007," she said of her condition. "Then they gave me five years, so if I had five years then, I have five years now, and if I can just keep that up ..." The crowd interrupted her with laughter.
Edwards ruefully described a day recently when was having unrelated stomach troubles, and said that when she checked a Google alert she has set up for her name, she read that she had been sick.
"It would really be nice to be able to throw up without having it appear in the Google alerts," she joked.
Edwards returned to the public stage only recently after her husband's affair became public in August. She made clear Saturday that she intends to continue speaking publicly against the health care policies of Republican presidential nominee John McCain. She fervently supports mandatory universal health coverage, while McCain supports free-market policies and a tax break to help drive down the cost of care.
A day like any mom's
Edwards, who declined to speak to reporters after the event, referred to her husband only glancingly on Saturday, as she described helping him put together his health care proposal. John Edwards hasn't held any public events since acknowledging an affair with a woman hired to produce videos of him in 2006. He has canceled all appearances until after the election.
After Saturday's discussion of health care, Edwards was asked by a young admirer in the audience what a typical day was like for her. She responded with a list of activities focused on her young kids, Jack and Emma Claire, that sounded like the day of any typical suburban mom.
"Yesterday we had a baseball game," she said, describing how Jack had made a particularly good play. "Emma Claire had dance class. Tomorrow is a Cub Scout hike. My life looks a lot like the lives of other mothers around this country — except when I get up at 6 a.m. and fly to New York for the day."
The festival is a weekend of panels and talks at venues around the city organized by the New Yorker magazine.