For Cate Edwards, the past three years have been nightmarish, a relentless maelstrom of gossip and publicity and tragedy. But in the midst of it all, Cate, 31—the eldest daughter of former presidential candidate John Edwards and the late Elizabeth Edwards—remained poised and diplomatic. Now, rising from the heartbreak and tragedy, she has followed in her mother’s footsteps and joined in the fight against breast cancer.
Cate is an advocate for the Count Us, Know Us, Join Us program, an organization dedicated to addressing the unique psychosocial and physical needs of women living with advanced breast cancer.
“It’s extremely rewarding to lend my voice and support to this community,” Cate says. “To know that I’m using my mother’s experiences to make a difference in the lives of those touched by advanced breast cancer…it’s very fulfilling.”
In 2010, Cate’s father, former Senator John Edwards, was involved in a highly publicized extramarital affair that tore the family apart and thrust Cate into the spotlight. At the time, Cate’s mother, the late Elizabeth Edwards, was battling an aggressive form of breast cancer that would ultimately claim her life in 2010, just months before Cate’s marriage to high school sweetheart Trevor Upham.
While standing at the altar in October 2011, Cate couldn’t help but feel a profound emptiness on what was supposed to be the most joyful day of her life.
“Your wedding day is a day that you envision everybody that you love being a part of,” Cate recalls. “My mom wasn’t physically there, but in my mind there is no question that she was a part of the ceremony.”
As you listen to Cate reflect on her mother, a compelling portrait of Elizabeth Edwards begins to emerge: That of a strong woman, pragmatic and fiercely determined, with an insatiable lust for life that persisted until her final days.
In 2004, Elizabeth was diagnosed with breast cancer after doctors found a lump in her breast. “She had this mentality, ‘Okay, what do we do now?’” Cate says. “And I garnered a lot of strength from that, from her ability to look at the practical elements of what we would do next and also the courage she showed throughout the whole process.”
In 2007, three years after her initial breast cancer diagnosis, Elizabeth was blindsided once again when she learned that her cancer had metastasized. Facing a grim prognosis and limited treatment options, Elizabeth refused to sink into hopelessness. “She had hard days, there’s no question about that,” Cate says. “But she lived with hope and with purpose because she didn’t know how many days she had left.”
Elizabeth ultimately succumbed to cancer in December 2010. The loss of her mother left Cate bereft—and inspired to act. “I wanted to do something in her honor,” Cate says.
Recognizing the need to drive greater awareness and support for advanced breast cancer patients, Cate joined the ranks of the Count Us, Join Us, Know Us program, which strives to bring much-needed attention to the advanced breast cancer community.
Breast cancer is one of the most visible and supported diseases in the world. However, most of the research and advocacy efforts tend to privilege the early breast cancer movement, which focuses on early detection, prevention and eventual cure.
“There are about 250,000 women diagnosed every year with advanced breast cancer,” Cate explains. “The Count Us program was created to address the unique needs of those women.”
According to Cate, women with advanced breast cancer grapple with financial trouble, feelings of helplessness, low self-esteem and other mental, physical and social challenges.
“When my mom had advanced breast cancer, she lived with a great deal of uncertainty, as a lot of women who live with advanced breast cancer do,” Elizabeth says. “Count Us is all about giving those women a network of love and support.”
The past few years have been a tough ride for Cate, but it seems things are finally beginning to look up. Cate is preparing for her third wedding anniversary. And, in spite of everything that’s happened with her father, Cate says that the two of them have reached a level of forgiveness and acceptance.
“My father and I have worked really hard, and we’ve gotten to a really good place,” Cate says. “At the end of the day, he’s my dad and we love each other.”
To learn more about Count Us and how you can get involved, visit the Count Us website.