It is no secret now that Albert Pujols and his wife have announced their divorce shortly after she had surgery to remove a brain tumor. As a breast cancer survivor, this news hit me in a special way. As I was reading through an article from Today, there was a quote that hit me hard, “But a marriage falling apart is far more common when the wife is the patient, researchers have found. A woman is six times more likely to be separated or divorced soon after a diagnosis of cancer or multiple sclerosis than if a man in the relationship is the patient, researchers at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance reported in the journal Cancer” (Pawlowski, 2022).
It has been almost two years since my husband and I found out I had breast cancer when our youngest was only nine weeks old. We went from adjusting to life with a toddler and newborn during a global pandemic to being thrown into cancer treatment. I was diagnosed on May 29, 2020 and did not finish active treatment until February 3, 2021.
At 30 years old, I was fighting for my life.
My husband was suddenly watching his wife go through chemo, surgery, and radiation while also taking care of almost everything around the house and still working full time. It was a lot. I can see why this is a huge test for a lot of marriages. And this does not just apply to a cancer diagnosis. There are so many chronic illnesses out there that could affect a marriage. But why is divorce more common when the wife is sick?
I guess a lot of moms just naturally take care of a lot around the house and with kids. If we are able to, we carry our babies for nine months and then go through a lot to birth them. We are the parent able to breastfeed them if we choose that route. We take maternity leave while our significant others go back to work. For a lot of couples, this carries on through our children’s lives.
So, when the person who is taking care of so much is suddenly hardly able to take care of herself, it can rock your family’s world.
So far, Chris and I are not part of the statistic mentioned above. I have sat here all day thinking about what I felt helped us. If I can share anything that will help another couple, I want to do that. I want to use my pain for a purpose. So what helped us?
First, the pandemic. That literally sounds crazy to say but bringing a baby home during a pandemic strengthened our marriage in ways I never could have imagined. We learned how to take care of two kids with no help whatsoever. Just the two of us. Date nights out of the house were not an option, so we focused on spending time together at home while the boys slept. We played board games a lot and had a lot of conversations that hit below the surface level. We somehow knew we needed this time even though cancer was the last thing we ever expected.
Second, communication. We had no idea what we were facing after the surgeon told me it was cancer. Was it terminal? What would chemo be like? We were reading the side effects of treatment and realized that anything could happen.
One of the first things we did was sit down and comb through our entire life.
Finances, day-to-day responsibilities, and end-of-life wishes. This is not something you want to do when you are 30 years old, but because we made everything so clear to each other, there were no surprises or arguments later.
And arguably most important, we made time for each other and ourselves. Sometimes it meant at-home date nights after putting our boys to bed, and sometimes we got out of the house and went on COVID safe dates. But we also communicated with each other when we needed a break from everything and needed to get out of the house.
Both caregivers and patients need self-care time.
Unfortunately, sometimes this came after we got to a breaking point. But most of the time we were able to be honest with each other and let each other know that we needed to just sit outside by ourselves or run to a store.
Now that we are thankfully past active treatment, it is still a lot of work to pick up all of the pieces. Therapy is extremely valuable during this time. And we spend our time living life to the fullest and enjoying time with our boys.
Marriage through an illness is hard work, but so incredibly worth it. It definitely takes both people to make it work.