GORDON WHITE: Elizabeth and Tony: Courageous Examples
John and Elizabeth Edwards were absolutely correct when they decided to continue campaigning together in his pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination despite the recurrence and spread of Mrs. Edwards' breast cancer.
Likewise, Tony Snow, who suffered a return of colon cancer, has indicated he will be going back as soon as possible to his job as President Bush's press secretary.
Elizabeth Edwards and Snow would be perfectly justified to pack it in and hibernate to a housebound life of seclusion and inactivity for the rest of their lives. But that is not the style of plucky and intelligent folks who are, fortunately, the majority of cancer patients and survivors I see these days.
Radiation, chemo, surgery and other medical treatments by wonderful doctors and medical staffs are vital for survival. But there is much more that is necessary for living with and surviving cancer.
As a 17-year survivor of colorectal cancer, I know that the support of my wife, family and friends -- plus continual mental and physical activity -- were essential to my making it from a Stage 3 cancer to an all-clear. I made the decision, along with my wife, Jane, to be active in mind and body and not to curl up in a corner and atrophy.
Because cancer affects every member of a patient's family, decisions concerning the survivor must be family decisions.
When the Edwardses made their decision last month to go on with his political campaign, they were also "doing their thing." John Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, is one of the nation's leading politicians.
His wife, a lawyer like her husband, has performed the duties of a politician's wife for years while raising a family.
Elizabeth Edwards wrote of her cancer and the tragic death of their teenage son, Wade, in her best-selling book, "Saving Graces."
Just because one is diagnosed with cancer or any other disease does not mean that person is finished contributing to society.
Consider what might have happened if Grover Cleveland had gone into a shell after being diagnosed with cancer early in his second presidential term. Instead, he underwent two surgical procedures for cancer of the jaw in July of 1893. Cleveland survived to complete his presidency and see to the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, thus preventing a depletion of the U.S. gold reserve.
Lance Armstrong is the most famous of recent athletes to survive cancer. He came back from testicular cancer that had metastasized to his brain. If this world-champion cyclist had decided to stop trying, he would not have set the record of seven consecutive Tour de France victories. He would not have created the excellent Lance Armstrong Foundation, which includes the Livestrong program as a guide for surviving the Big C.
Where would North Carolina State women's athletics be if Kay Yow had not led the Wolfpack women's basketball team for the past 32 seasons? Yow, a native of Gibsonville, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987. She fought that off and then, like Elizabeth Edwards, suffered a return of the disease last fall. She missed some of the recent season as she underwent more chemotherapy.
But Kay Yow returned in time to lead N.C. State to the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament for the 20th time. Last week, she was named the 2007 recipient of the annual Naismith Award for a career of outstanding contributions to women's basketball.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who won two Gold Medals and one Silver Medal in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, was considered by many to be the finest American female athlete of the 20th century. She became one of the early professional golfers on the LPGA tour.
She had a colostomy performed because of colon cancer in April 1953. Told she would never be able to play golf again, Didrikson was back on the tournament circuit 14 weeks after her surgery. And she won some more golf tournaments before her death from the disease on Sept. 27, 1956.
Cancer is not the only form of physical disability to beset famous Americans who prevailed despite such handicaps.
Imagine our history if Franklin Delano Roosevelt had decided to become a wealthy recluse after polio turned him into a long-suffering paraplegic. Maybe none of you "young ones" would be cashing in Social Security checks each month if FDR had quit on us.
Americans know their bank deposits are safe because FDR pushed for the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
One could go on and on about FDR's contributions from a wheelchair.
We the people are better off because these folks "did their thing" and made this world just a little better and more enjoyable for us while they waged personal struggles we may never fully appreciate.
God bless Elizabeth and Tony. May they carry on in their chosen endeavors for years to come. I believe we will all profit from their courage and vitality.
Gordon White may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story