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Elizabeth Edwards loses six-year fight against cancer

Wife of US Senator John Edwards faced her illness and his infidelity with courage

Elizabeth Edwards, the estranged wife of the former US presidential contender John, who became the unwitting victim of one of the great political scandals of recent times, has lost her long and at times very public battle with cancer.

Friends and family confirmed that Mrs Edwards, who chronicled her illness in a bestselling book that also detailed her husband's marital infidelity, died yesterday morning at her home in North Carolina. She was 61.

The news came less than a day after it emerged that the breast cancer had spread to her liver, prompting doctors to advise against any further medical intervention. Her three children are reported to have been at her bedside during her final hours, along with their father.

Days earlier, Mrs Edwards revealed on Facebook that her illness would no longer respond to treatment. "The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered," she wrote. "And there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human.

"But I have found that in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful." The death marked the end of a topsy-turvy life which was first touched by tragedy in 1996, when her 16-year-old son, Wade, was killed in a car accident.

With her dashing husband, a highly-rated Senator and former lawyer at her side, she bounced back. A few years ago, the couple's path seemed destined for the White House, yet two developments overshadowed her last years. First, Mrs Edwards was diagnosed with cancer during the final days of the presidential campaign in 2004, in which her husband stood as Democrat John Kerry's vice-presidential candidate. She continued to serve as his chief adviser and, when she was told in 2007 that her cancer had spread and was now terminal, the pair decided that Mr Edwards's campaign to be selected as the Democratic candidate for the 2008 election should continue.

Everything changed when reports of an affair with a campaign worker, Rielle Hunter, encircled Mr Edwards in 2007, eventually leading to his admission in 2010 that he was the father of the woman's daughter, and had previously lied about their relationship.

The Senator, who had long since abandoned his bid for the presidency, is now facing potential corruption charges for funnelling campaign funds to Ms Hunter as part of what has been described as "hush money" payments. Mrs Edwards got a degree of revenge on Oprah Winfrey's chat show last year, giving an interview in which she revealed how she reacted to news of her husband's infidelity.

"After I cried and screamed, I went to the bathroom and threw up," she said. The couple then legally separated but were never divorced.