Breast Cancer Book Review: Saving Graces by Elizabeth Edwards

Mrs. Edwards Life Was Far From Ordinary

Elizabeth Edwards. Elizabeth Edwards, Penguin Random House

“In so many ways my life has been completely ordinary,” writes Elizabeth Edwards in her book, Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers  (Broadway Books). However, readers may find little that is ordinary in Mrs. Edwards' life.

Loss, Grief, Family

The majority of the book is devoted to the death of her 16-year-old son Wade and to the Edwards’ political campaigns.

Few of us can afford the luxury of twice-daily graveside visits, plus time to make a garden there, and clean the graves nearby.

Not everybody can have a marble sculpture created for a son’s grave by an artist-in-residence at the National Cathedral. Elizabeth Edwards had all these things.

Although she tells us details of her own grieving, we get very little insight into her husband and daughter’s grief at Wade’s death.

This Is Not a Breast Cancer Memoir

If you are looking for a breast cancer memoir, this is not it. This book opens with a well-written section that tells us how and when she found her breast lump.

There are no details of her breast cancer diagnosis, its stage, what kind it was, and nothing about surgery or chemotherapy. In fact, we read no more about her cancer until the next to the last chapter, when she gets a biopsy and goes through treatment.

The text that is sandwiched between these two slices of the narrative is the rest of her autobiography. You might wish that the sandwich was filled with something more substantial, as a significant amount of it is copied from her online grief community and her online cancer support group.

A strong editorial influence could have shaped this into something more tightly written and as compelling as the book’s first section.

A Good Edwards Family Portrait

Mrs. Edwards is a “people person” and throughout this autobiography, she is surrounded by a host of family, friends, personal and political staff, online support communities, and some truly ordinary people.

Elizabeth and John do appear to genuinely like ordinary people and have taken the time to know their postman, gardener, teachers, newspaper boy, repairmen, and other service people that came and went.John Edwards, who decided to run for president again in 2008, comes through as a genuinely decent and caring person.

This book is a good portrait of the Edwards family. Just don’t expect it to be a breast cancer memoir  because Elizabeth Edwards has clearly moved on from there.

Update to Her Story

In 2007, John and Elizabeth Edwards announced that her breast cancer returned and spread to a bone.

John Edwards had planned to continue his bid for U.S. President, saying of his wife's cancer, "We are very optimistic." Speaking of his campaign schedule, Edwards said, "Any time, any place I need to be with Elizabeth, I will be there."

Sadly, Mrs. Edwards passed away on December 7, 2010. Her story has since been used to shine a light and open discussions about breast cancer.


Continue Reading