Even in the brief final days of her life, Elizabeth Edwards—a woman whose public battle with cancer provided so many "educational moments"—continued to teach us a precious lesson, writes Dr. Barron Lerner for the New York Times: "What it means to be a cancer 'non-survivor.'" While a long list of celebrities, from Shirley Temple Black to Lance Armstrong, have emerged as effective advocates because they were outspoken about and, importantly, survived their disease, "cancer survivor" is an "ambiguous term."
Edwards' illness, writes Lerner, "demonstrates the tricky nature of labels with a disease as unpredictable as cancer." First diagnosed in 2004, she announced that the cancer had returned, and was terminal, three years later. "Yes, Elizabeth Edwards was a breast cancer survivor, according to the lingo. But she would not survive the disease." And in being so candid, she taught us a long list of lessons: Cancer can come back. Treatment can keep you alive for years. Chemo can stop being effective. And while she didn't discuss her pain, or end-of-life wishes, "these topics are now being discussed widely. As such, they are likely to help other individuals struggling with the same issues. That legacy, at least, will survive her."