Elizabeth Edwards met with members of The Wege Foundation, Ellen Satterlee, Executive Director on the left and Terri McCarthy, VP of Programs on the right, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on September 22, 2007. This private, non-media event was held at a most appropriate site: Gilda’s House Grand Rapids, a cancer-support home. Created in memory of comedienne Gilda Radner, the 20 Gilda’s Clubs around the country are places where cancer patients and their families gather for support, education, fellowship, and fun.
Elizabeth Edwards has breast cancer, first diagnosed in 2004. In March 2007, her husband and she announced on national TV that her cancer had returned. They both spoke about their mutual decision that he would stay in the race for the Democratic nomination.
Gilda’s House holds special significance for Peter Wege and The Wege Foundation as well. Both Peter’s parents Sophia Louise and Peter Martin Wege died of cancer. Their only child, Peter M. Wege made his first of many donations to cancer causes when he was flying airplanes in World War II. The women who started Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids in 1998 are the first to tell you that Peter Wege’s generous support has been pivotal to their Club’s becoming the busiest and most successful one in the United States.
When Elizabeth Edwards arrived at Gilda’s Grand Rapids, she was greeted by group of red-coated—for Gilda’s signature red doors—volunteers holding signs of welcome and praise. Elizabeth Edwards wept as she greeted each volunteer, most of them fellow cancer patients. “In all my travels,” she told them, “I have never been greeted like this.”
Speaking to a small gathering, including Gilda’s Club board members, the articulate Elizabeth talked openly about facing this new bout with cancer. She also spoke about the day her sixteen-year old son Wade was killed when his car got thrown off the road in a freak wind tunnel. A highly respected attorney herself, Elizabeth Edwards made no political comments at all. She talked about her husband only briefly when she was asked how he is handling her diagnosis.
This petite woman, who looks people straight in the eye, captured the small audience with her naturalness, sincerity, and personal outreach to her fellow cancer sufferers. Elizabeth Edwards was awed by the red-doored home on Bridge Street and all that Gilda’s Grand Rapids is doing for families with cancer. She took time before she left to sign copies of her new book with its self-defining title, Saving Graces: Finding Solace & Strength from Friends and Strangers.