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Edwards' decision to continue campaign could cost him politically

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., whose political career has been punctuated by personal tragedy, is continuing his presidential campaign Friday despite the discovery that his wife's cancer has returned, this time in an incurable form.

After announcing Thursday that her breast cancer had returned in an advanced stage in her bones, John and Elizabeth Edwards left for campaign stops in Boston, New York and, on Friday, California.

The disease was revealed by an X-ray after a hug between the two cracked one of her ribs. She'd injured her side days earlier moving a heavy chest of drawers, which may have contributed to the rib injury.

The Edwardses voiced optimism about the grim diagnosis and said the campaign would continue, despite statements last year that Elizabeth Edwards' health was the one variable that could sideline John Edwards' White House ambitions.

"I expect to do next week all the things I did last week," said Elizabeth Edwards, 57. "I do not expect my life to be significantly different."

John Edwards' campaign headquarters in Chapel Hill, where volunteers streamed in and out Thursday, set up a special e-mail address, elizabeth(at)johnedwards.com, for well-wishers. The constant phone calls of support included a tipster offering an organic, anti-cancer diet.

The news comes at a crucial juncture for Edwards' campaign, whose first-quarter fundraising totals will indicate whether he can remain a top-tier candidate with Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.

The disclosure presents political risks: Edwards chose not to suspend his ambition to tend to an ailing spouse, and thus could be perceived as insufficiently sympathetic. Donors also may view him as a riskier investment if they think this means he'll be more likely to drop out down the road.

Elizabeth Edwards' diagnosis highlights once again how the personal has been political for her husband. His motivation to run for public office came after their 16-year-old son, Wade, died in an automobile accident. Many of his policy proposals in his 2004 presidential bid, such as a college aid program, arose from his own experiences growing up in a small mill town.

Elizabeth was first diagnosed with breast cancer days before John Kerry and John Edwards lost the 2004 election. The couple spent the following months battling it. She chronicled their struggles with cancer and her son's death in a successful book that took her to Oprah Winfrey's couch and other national TV appearances.

"We've been confronted with these kinds of traumas and struggles already in our life, and we know from our previous experience that when this happens you have a choice," John Edwards said Thursday. "You can cower in the corner and hide, or you can go out there and be tough and stand up for what you believe in."

Previously, when Edwards was weighing a bid for the presidency in 2008, he said he wouldn't run if something happened to his wife. In August, he told The News & Observer of Raleigh that "something happening to Elizabeth" would stop him from running.

In October, Elizabeth Edwards told Time magazine that her health was a factor in her husband's candidacy.

"He said that if the cancer recurred—we actually had a scare this fall that turned out not to be anything—he would do what he did before, and draw himself into making me better."

John Edwards also said Thursday that the difficult decisions and tense times that he and his wife would face in coping with the cancer were similar to those that a president would face in office.

"Anyone who wants to be president of the United States needs to understand and recognize there will be very difficult and tense, high-pressure times when judgments have to be made, and if you're not able—in a focused, thoughtful way—to deal with this kind of pressure, you're not ready to be president," Edwards said.

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(Johnson and Morrill report for The Charlotte Observer. Teague Beckwith reports for The News & Observer in Raleigh.)

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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