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Cate Edwards Remembers Mom Elizabeth: Her Voice Is Always in My Head

updated 09/21/2013 AT 1:00 PM ET

originally published 09/22/2013 AT 9:00 AM ET

Cate Edwards, who lost her mother, Elizabeth, to breast cancer in 2010, admits not a day goes by when she doesn’t think of her mom.

The oldest daughter of former senator John Edwards, Cate has followed in her late mother’s footsteps as an advocate for women with cancer and recently joined the “Count Us, Know Us, Join Us” campaign, which recognizes those living with advanced breast cancer, their caregivers, supporters, friends and family members.

The 31-year-old, who wed longtime boyfriend Trevor Upham in 2011, says being by her mother’s side during the six-year-long battle was “enlightening in a lot of ways, and being a part of that process with her was momentous for me.”

“[My mother] taught me that it’s OK to be down some days, but she generally had a really optimistic outlook,” Edwards told PEOPLE at the London NYC Hotel on Thursday. “Her takeaway and immediate reaction to her diagnosis was, ‘Hey, I don’t know how long I have left, and I’m going to make sure that all of that time is lived with purpose and to make every day count.’”

The attorney and best-selling author left a lasting legacy for her three children, but perhaps the most precious one is a three-page letter she wrote for her oldest daughter.

Cate Edwards

David Plakke
“It’s filled with words of wisdom, one of which was to never do anything halfway, to give everything 100 percent and do the best you can because your work represents who you are,” says Edwards, who saved the letter to her desktop computer. “Her voice was in my head when she was alive and it is today, in big and small ways.”

While continuing to juggle her advocacy work through her job as a civil-rights attorney, Edwards and her family have almost finished creating the grave marker for her mother.

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