Campaigning with cancer
She became a popular figure on the presidential campaign trail in 2004, seen as someone approachable, less glamorous and more down-to-earth than her husband. She would make fun of herself as someone without perfectly coiffed hair or a stylish outfit, as someone who struggled with her weight.
It was during a campaign trip in Wisconsin a few weeks before the 2004 election that Edwards noticed a lump in her breast. Tests indicated cancer, but she and her husband kept it a secret until after the election.
The day after the election, when Kerry and John Edwards made their concession speeches in Boston, Edwards went to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for a biopsy and to begin treatment. She spent much of 2005 undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment after surgery.
She received 65,000 messages of support.
The Edwardses returned to North Carolina, moving to a 28,200-square-foot home they built just outside Chapel Hill. To critics, the size of the home was jarring, given John Edwards' emphasis on helping the poor. But the Edwardses had lived in a Georgetown mansion when he was in the Senate.
In 2006, Edwards wrote her autobiography, "Saving Graces." The book focused on her health and sold nearly 180,000 copies.
When John Edwards entered the 2008 presidential campaign, she said her cancer was in remission. But in March 2007, she and her husband stunned the political world by announcing that her cancer had spread to her bones and that while it was treatable, it was not curable.
"I expect to do next week all the things I did last week," Edwards unemotionally told reporters at a Chapel Hill news conference, her husband at her side. "I do not expect my life to be significantly different."
Doctors said most patients in her position had five years to live, but she urged her husband to continue the campaign.
Not everyone approved of their decision. Some thought they were in denial, or wondered whether they were letting their political ambition outweigh family considerations.
When CBS News anchor Katie Couric reminded her, "You're staring at possible death," Edwards replied: "Aren't we all though?"
She was the most outspoken of the candidates' wives. When conservative commentator Ann Coulter called John Edwards "a faggot" and suggested that he should have been killed by terrorists, Edwards called a TV program to confront her on the air.
She seemed to speak more candidly because of her illness. Frustrated that the media attention was focused on then-New York Sen. Clinton and then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, she said: "We can't make John black, we can't make him a woman."
She said that her choices in life in raising children had led her to the conclusion: "I'm more joyful than she [Hillary] is."
Edwards also took positions her husband could not or would not take. She appeared at a Gay Pride breakfast in San Francisco, voicing support for gay marriages -- opposed by her husband.
But in the end the Edwardses' seven-year quest for the White House did not succeed. With Obama and Clinton dominating the 2008 Democratic primary, John Edwards could find little room. He dropped out after the South Carolina primary in January.
All the while, their marriage was unraveling.
Despite their public image as a tightly knit couple, John Edwards had an affair with Rielle Hunter, a younger woman who had worked as a videographer on his campaign. Elizabeth Edwards later said she learned of the affair before her husband announced his candidacy but said she believed it had been a one-time mistake. She campaigned for him even though she knew the couple held a secret that could have exploded his candidacy.
Seven months after John Edwards dropped out of the race, he dropped his bombshell.
John Edwards went on national TV to acknowledge the affair with Hunter but denied that he was the father of her baby. He said he had told his wife about the affair in late 2006 and had broken off with Hunter.
Edwards did not appear on TV with her husband when he admitted the affair. But she issued a statement saying she stood by him.
"John made a terrible mistake in 2006," she said. "The fact that it is a mistake that many others have made before him did not make it any easier for me to hear when he told me what he had done. But he did tell me. And we began a long and painful process in 2006, a process oddly made somewhat easier with my diagnosis in March of 2007."
Friends described the situation as anguishing, but Edwards chose to continue in her marriage, in part for the sake of the children.
In July 2007, the couple celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary by renewing their wedding vows in a backyard ceremony.
After the revelation about the affair, the Edwardses largely disappeared.
But in 2009, a federal investigation into John Edwards' campaign finances pulled them back into media reports. Edwards' associates and his mistress were called to testify before the grand jury in Raleigh.
In January, another bombshell: John Edwards admitted paternity of Hunter's daughter, Frances Quinn. In those same stories, the Edwardses acknowledged that they had separated.
The couple, friends say, remained close. Elizabeth Edwards went with John to spend time with Frances Quinn after their separation.
Edwards made several appearances to talk about health care issues. She hinted at the strains the scandal had put on their marriage.
"There's a lot of adjustments to make," she told the Detroit Free Press. "When you mention trust, that's probably the most difficult hurdle."
Earlier this year, Edwards released her second book, "Resilience," in which she talked about the pain of John's infidelity.
Then, she retreated to a private life again. She opened a furniture store in Chapel Hill. Mostly, though, she spent the year doing the routine things -- attending UNC basketball games or Christmas shopping with Emma Claire at Target.
She was returning to her life as just plain Elizabeth.
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