Shunning the Sidelines

Heal, Fall 2007, Volume 1, Issue 2

Cheers to Elizabeth Edwards, who isn't letting cancer stop her.

My late wife, Carole Kneeland, after a 20-year career as a television reporter, spent her last 8½ years as news director for KVUE-TV in Austin, Texas. She died in January of 1998.

Texas trial lawyer Kirk Watson was a popular mayor of Austin for five years, then the Democratic nominee for attorney general, and is now a state senator — all after two bouts with testicular cancer. He didn’t let the disease sideline him any more than did seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong.

Among things learned is that experiences like cancer can sharpen rather than dull priorities. Some call it “the gift of cancer.”

While some have said that John Edwards should quit his campaign and pay attention solely to his wife’s cancer and their young family, their choice is to live their lives as they think is best for them — which includes continuing his campaign for the presidency.

The fact they have lived with adversity, including the car accident death of a son several years ago at the age of 16, and Elizabeth’s breast cancer first diagnosed in 2004, probably in fact makes them better potential occupants of the White House.

It’s not a credential to seek out, but their coping with life-and-death matters certainly helps them better understand the plight of those who face hardships.

Edwards, the former U.S. senator from North Carolina and vice presidential candidate in 2004, should no more quit the presidential contest because of his wife’s cancer than should

Republican candidates Rudy Giuliani (because of his bout with prostate cancer) or John McCain (whose arms were broken during five years as a Vietnamese prisoner of war and who has had several skin cancers removed).

As John Edwards says, don’t vote for him because you’re sorry his wife has cancer.

On the other hand, don’t vote against him because the Edwards family chose to carry on with its life work rather than quit living life to the fullest.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 1989, six months into her new job. Yet she was an active and involved news director for most of the remainder of her life, refusing to be sidelined by cancer. And I continued to write a column about Texas politics for the Austin American-Statesman.

When people told Carole she was courageous, she replied that she only chose to go on with her life, rather than quit the job she loved for fear of something that might or might not happen.

The day before she was to get a health report that might say her illness was terminal, her friend Patricia Kilday Hart called to say she was coming over, that she knew Carole would be worried.

When she arrived, Carole was lying in a hammock, reading a book and enjoying the day. “I’m not going to let what might happen tomorrow ruin today,” she explained.

She would not have had it any other way. Nor would I.

At her death, several colleagues and friends established the Carole Kneeland Project for Responsible Television Journalism (www.CaroleKneelandProject.org), to teach the skills Carole developed in her eight years as a news director. Since then, more than 200 local television news directors across the country have been trained in her methods. The spirit of her work lives on.

Six years after Carole’s death, I married my preacher-lawyer neighbor, Kathryn Longley (who added the last name of McNeely). She had breast cancer before we married.

After day surgeries and radiation treatment, Kathryn’s checkups have shown no signs of recurrence. We keep our fingers crossed as we continue to live our lives, personally and professionally, with vigor.

Kathryn, a pastor at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Austin, is working to set up volunteer programs to help people and families dealing with cancer. She doesn’t want to be considered a victim, and we don’t act as if she is.

Among things learned is that experiences like cancer can sharpen rather than dull priorities.