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There's no rule book for battling cancer

Elizabeth Edwards' cancer has recurred. Recur is a word that strikes fear deep in the heart of a cancer survivor. It's a word that cancer survivors must learn to live with as they move from diagnosis to treatment and beyond. It's a word that I, as a cancer survivor, have learned -- however reluctantly -- to live with.

After it was revealed that Edwards' breast cancer had returned, political commentators and pundits began recommending how she and her presidential candidate husband, John, should arrange their lives from this point forward. Should she stay home with their children or stay on the campaign trail? Questions easily posed, but not so easily answered.

The only question the Edwards should ask themselves as they determine the best avenue from here is: Does it work for us? And that's because a cancer diagnosis doesn't come with a rule book -- no chapter and verse that you can flip through to decide the next move.

My doctors have told me that I should work to keep my life as normal as possible for as long as possible and whenever possible. That's a wide-ranging recommendation, but it's the only one that makes sense, because the road from cancer to treatment to cure is neither straight nor easily navigated.

Cancer has its own unique way of having the final word. That word is uncertainty. It's the uncertainty that causes sufferers to wonder if they'll live to see their children reach adulthood. It's the uncertainty that contains within it the power to convince you that you'll never see another spring. It's this spirit-numbing uncertainty that Edwards and all cancer patients must live with.

So, all of the experts who deliver the 10-second sound bite of advice to the Edwards have caused me to smile myself. Smile because as a cancer survivor, I know how foolish it is to give hard and fast advice to someone who is confronting a relentless and unpredictable illness.

Most people living with cancer will never have to decide whether to campaign with their presidential candidate spouse as they received treatment. The question most cancer patients face are much more mundane. Mundane but nonetheless critical questions that I found myself considering as I received treatment, such as: Will I find the strength to get out of bed this morning? What will I do if I lose my health insurance?

What the Edwards' health crisis has caused us to do is to focus on the cancer sufferer instead of the cancer celebrity. It has pulled back the curtain on the terrifying reality that cancer brings to a sufferer's doorstep: the reality that you may or may not die -- just yet. The stark reality that comes in knowing that life must go on, even in the face of death.

Edwards' illness has reminded us of the desperate need to cure cancer -- as if we should ever need reminding -- and it has driven home the unpleasant fact that in life, there are no easy answers and there are no guaranteed happy endings no matter how good or how generous or how loving a person may be.

Edwards has demonstrated grace and poise while confronting a potentially fatal illness. And she has done this in the public square for the benefit of all. In doing so she has shown courage, determination and love in the face of breathtaking uncertainty. For this we owe her a debt of gratitude.

Kevin Ormsby, a cancer survivor from Niagara Falls, knows that life must go on, even in the face of death.

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