Wife of John Edwards Defends Decision to Stick With Campaign After Cancer Diagnosis

Elizabeth Edwards wants to be clear: She made the choice to stick with her husband's campaign for president after learning her cancer was back.

"I think that people who are critical like to think that John dragged me kicking and fighting the whole way, that I'm somehow disappointed in this. I'm not disappointed in this," she said on Monday.

Speaking to reporters after her husband's town hall meeting at Concord High School, Edwards, 57, said at decision time, she went first.

"He let me make it first, I think, because he wanted to make certain it was mine and I wasn't just deferring to him," she said. "This is what I wanted to do."

As for criticism of their decision: "I don't worry for me because we've got tough skin. And, honestly, having been through the death of a child, it's just words. You want to hurt us, you're going to have to do a little better than that."

It was the couple's first campaign trip to New Hampshire since announcing last month that Elizabeth Edwards' breast cancer, diagnosed at the end of the 2004 campaign, had returned in her bones. John Edwards stayed in the race, drawing praise from cancer survivors. From others, he drew questions about whether that was the right choice.

In Concord, Elizabeth Edwards led the way into the gymnasium, followed by her husband, son Jack and daughters Cate and Emma Claire.

John Edwards was the headliner, speaking to a mostly high school-age audience on broad themes of unity and change and their importance in solving Iraq, health care, climate change and poverty.

"The country and the world has to change," he said. "Instead of taking small steps, we need big bold steps."

On Iraq, Edwards criticized President Bush's threat to veto a House-passed bill to set a timeline for withdrawing from Iraq.

"If the president chooses to veto it, it's the president of the United States who's decided 'I'm not going to provide the funding to the troops leaving Iraq," he said. "If he vetoes it they ought to send it back to him."

But Elizabeth Edwards was the show stealer. John Edwards got his first round of applause by mentioning his wife: "She's shown extraordinary courage and I'm very, very proud of her."

And when he left the room, she lingered, surrounded by autograph seekers, well-wishers and reporters jostling for quotes.

"I was here to see Elizabeth, really," said Ruth Ann Herbert.

Herbert wanted to speak to Edwards about their common loss — both had teenage sons who died. In introducing her husband, Edwards spoke of their son, Wade, who died at 16 in a car crash, and the high school learning lab created in his memory. Herbert, a reading tutor at Concord High, established a scholarship in her son's name.

"I just wanted to tell her that we're sisters. You have no idea unless you've lost a child, and I just wanted to let her know that she's very inspiring to me," Herbert said.

In Durham, after a packed town hall meeting at the University of New Hampshire, an elderly woman bustled through the crowd surrounding John Edwards, threw her arms around him in a hug and asked where his wife was.

"She's over there," he said. "She's got a big crowd around her."

Edwards spoke a day after announcing he had raised more than $14 million in campaign money. Sen. Hillary Clinton had raised a record $26 million.

"One thing is clear — there are at least two candidates, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, who are going to have plenty of money to run a serious campaign," Edwards said.