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None of these advances mean that living with cancer is easy, or even possible. A certain percentage of patients, as Snow and Edwards surely know, do not respond to any current treatments. And some types of cancer particularly pancreatic, ovarian and stomach continue to have high mortality rates, one reason cancer still kills 560,000 Americans every year. Side effects remain an issue as well, though antinausea medications are now so good that some doctors say it's rare for their patients to vomit. And drugs that prevent anemia and a drop in white blood cells mean patients can carry on with life's activities without the constant dread of contracting infections. Still, anxiety remains a steady companion for people living with cancer. "Dealing with the worry around tests and how well the drugs are working for recurrent cancer is one of the most emotionally challenging things that my patients experience," says Russell. "All medical oncologists must help patients manage this emotional roller coaster."
Edwards suspects she's better prepared than most, because she's already faced down death, not only with her first bout of cancer but also with the loss of her 16-year-old son Wade 11 years ago in a car accident. "When you lose a child through an accident," she says, "you discover that you only have an illusion of control over your own fate. I've already let go of that myth, and that makes this process a lot easier."
For now, Edwards is happy to be the public face of living with cancer and has enjoyed seeing fellow travelers at campaign stops, greeting her in headscarves or with thinly thatched noggins. She expects to begin a new round of treatment in mid-April, after a bit more campaigning and some time off to spend spring break with her kids. She's thinking less about how much time she may have and more about how she spends it. "I was cleaning my bathroom, and thinking, I really don't want to spend too much time doing this," she says. "Another thing I did was plant some lilacs and other flowers something I hope to enjoy and I know my family will enjoy. That's work I'm happy to fill my days with."