Mackinac Island: Talking With Ann Romney, Part II

Mackinac Island: In Part I of Elizabeth Edwards's interview with Ann Romney, she spoke about her childhood summers in Northern Michigan, falling in love with her husband (and Republican presidential candidate), Mitt, on Mackinac Island and what a Romney administration might mean to Michigan.

You have multiple sclerosis (MS) and had breast cancer.  Yet, you seem a paragon of health and energy.

It hasn’t always been this way. The breast cancer was difficult, but honestly it wasn’t nearly as difficult as MS.  The detection of breast cancer is so much better now and the treatment is so good. That was the case for me. I had very good doctors and good surgery. Radiation was very difficult for me, however. It took me longer to get back from the radiation than I think it does most people. But I did.

And the MS?

When I was initially diagnosed [in 1998] I thought my life was over, and I was very depressed. So you have to kind of get past that and start fighting. It helps to know that other people have done well with the disease. It’s not as frightening a diagnosis as it used to be because the medication is better than it used to be. I work with the MS society on MS research and they are really getting excited about promising medicines that are coming along. The unfortunate thing though is that everyone’s response to the medicine is different.

I’m in remission now, but there were periods of my life that were very difficult. I was put on steroids for a year. I hated it. It was really gruesome, but it worked to stop the disease—although I was still sick for a while. The thing that is hard is that it is like a little cloud, and you don’t know when it is going to come back.

But I have been healthy … if I was not healthy and well we would not be doing this [campaign]. But I have been healthy and well for a number of years. And I just have to be smart, but in all things you just have to be smart and rest and eat right and everything else. I ride horses for exercise—it’s been about 10 days since I’ve ridden and I miss it.

How rigorous is your campaign schedule?

I don’t work nearly to the degree that Mitt does because I know I can’t. But I can keep up. The MS doesn’t slow me down. The disease is in remission, but I do want to be cautious because I don’t want to be back in the full-blown disease because it is not a good place to be.

I was surprised to read that you and Elizabeth Edwards [ex-wife of Senator John Edwards], were friends. How did that come to be—especially given that your husbands were political rivals when you became acquainted?

She was a dear friend. We would call and talk to each other and continued that when life was particularly difficult for her—especially toward the end of her life with the divorce and everything else. I was in touch with Elizabeth during those hard times.

When her cancer returned [in 2007] I would call her and check in with her on occasion. So when I was diagnosed with breast cancer [in 2008] she was the first person who called me and she said, “Ann, you always were so quick to call me in difficult times, I want to be the first person to call you.  Now we’re in this together.”

And then when it got so ugly with her and John, and it was so sad, she and I actually spent a lot of time on the phone. We enjoyed each other. I thought she was hilarious. I really got a kick out of her.

She remembered meeting me when John was first running—2003. She was more famous, obviously, than I was at that time. And the next time she saw me on the campaign trail she came right over and said, “Oh my gosh I remember you so well …” and I thought, Wow, that was amazing. We somehow got stuck together talking for a while, and before I knew it I had tears running down my face I was laughing so hard at some of the things she was saying and doing. Then we just ended up being girlfriends. It just kind of clicked.

She was a special lady. She had her own real unbelievable challenges. She was so worried about her younger children. She said, "I just want to keep hanging on, I want to keep hanging on because I want to still be their mom."

Have you given much thought to what causes you will champion if you become First Lady of the United States?

If things work out and Mitt gets to be president I obviously will make caring about MS a topic. I talk a lot about it already. In addition, anything to do with helping kids.  I’ve worked a lot with at-risk youth. That’s where my heart is.

You’ve probably been asked this before, but any chance of Mackinac Island being the summer White House under a Romney presidency?

[Laughs] No I haven’t been asked that—but what a great place for it!