Amy Czerniec and Elizabeth Edwards, Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, October 2004

Back in October of 2004, my wife Amy was working at the Maidenform store in Pleasant Prairie’s Prime Outlets shopping center.

One morning — October 21st, to be exact — Amy phoned home to tell me that there was some unusual activity in the parking lot. There were five or six squad cars positioned around the property, and several dark vehicles lined up along the curb. She was certain they belonged to the Secret Service.

As we talked, the woman at the center of the buzz emerged from a Suburban. “It’s Elizabeth Edwards,” Amy gasped.

Apparently, this was just an impromptu personal shopping stop, not a campaign event, but with less than two weeks to go before Election Day, the wife of the vice presidential candidatequickly attracted the attention of everyone in the mall.

After Ms. Edwards entered the Dana Buchman store two doors down, Amy wandered over as well to say hello to her friend who was managing there. “Did you see who’s in here?” Cheri whispered. “Why do you think I came over?” Amy whispered back.

As Ms. Edwards was leaving the store and men in dark suits were carrying her purchases back to the car, Amy approached her to wish her success. They chatted briefly, and the mall manager snapped the photo of them shown above. Then Ms. Edwards left to speak at Kenosha’s UAW Local 72 Union Hall.

We discussed, later on, how difficult it must be to have police and Secret Service agents surrounding your every activity for months and possibly years on end, and how someone in the public eye like that has to offer a friendly face to every single stranger who interrupts, all day, every day. Amy was really impressed by how warm, sweet, and natural Elizabeth Edwards was that morning.

Elizabeth Edwards’ breast cancer

The day after the election,Elizabeth Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer. Backtracking, we wondered whether the morning Amy had met her could have been the same morning she discovered the lump in her breast.

Sure enough, when her book Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers was published last September, she gave her account of that day in the first chapter, “Kenosha”:

Despite the lump and everything it might mean, I had no intention of changing our plan. We had all been looking forward to the unprecedented time devoted to something as mindless, frivolous, and selfish as shopping. The clothes I had in my suitcase that day were basically the same ones I had packed when I left Washington in early July, and it was now nearing November in Wisconsin. It was cold, I was sick of my clothes, and, to be honest, I wasn’t particularly concerned about the lump. This had happened before, about ten years earlier. I had found what turned out to be a harmless fibrous cyst. I had it removed, and there were no problems. Granted, this lump was clearly larger than the other, but as I felt its smooth contour, I was convinced this had to be another cyst. I wasn’t going to allow myself to think it could be anything else.

Today in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in the early months of another campaign, John Edwards and his wife announced that her cancer has returned, and that the stage 4 cancer “is no longer curable, but it is treatable.” Nevertheless, their campaign will go on.

In her book, Ms. Edwards tells how she bought a red blazer that morning in Kenosha, and how her friend designated it her “Courage Jacket.”

Clearly, she still has it.

Update, 5/7/2009:

Elizabeth Edwards’ latest book, Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities, will be released tomorrow.

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