A woman has a mammogram to detect breast cancer.
A woman has a mammogram to detect breast cancer.

Cancer? I’m leaving

Time of article published Nov 1, 2011

Share this article:

Daisy Dumas

The blow of discovering cancer is more likely to be followed by the trauma of separation or divorce for women than it is for men.

A study looking at sufferers of cancer and multiple sclerosis in three US medical centres showed that a woman is six times more likely to be abandoned by a partner after a diagnosis than a man with the same diseases.

Dr Marc Chamberlain, chief of neuro-oncology at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, co-authored the study, Gender Disparity in the Rate of Partner Abandonment in Patients with Serious Medical Illness.

He told Today.com: “We did find women who had abandoned male partners, but the differences were striking. There (were) a disproportionate number of partner abandonments in female patients.”

Chamberlain – who admitted that his 2009 report makes men look like “bottom-dwelling, scum-sucking creatures” – said that “men may be very well equipped to be primary providers but not so well equipped to be primary caregivers”.

Speaking with the news site, he said: “I think men are challenged in caring for someone who has disease and treatment-related symptoms – managing the stress, managing the logistics.”

Writer Diane Mapes knows exactly what he is talking about. Her boyfriend left her when she found out that she had breast cancer. His parting words to her were: “It’s not cancer, it’s you.”

Cindi Wine, 55, can sympathise with Mapes. Not only did her husband not go with her to her first radiation treatment, but when she got home, he had left, taking his belongings with him. The former radio host from Indianapolis told Today: “My husband said he couldn’t go with me – he was too busy at work.

“But when I got home, all of his stuff was gone. I felt like somebody had punched me in the gut.”

In an e-mail on the night he left her, Wine’s husband told her: “I can’t deal with this. It’s too much stress for me right now.”

“I just thought, ‘What the hell stress are you going through? I’m the one with cancer’,” Wine told the news site.

Mindy Greenstein, a psycho-oncologist, has seen Wine’s situation time and time again, but says that the reasons behind a spouse’s behaviour are nebulous.

“Are they frustrated? Are they afraid? Are they looking for a woman who’s not missing body parts? Who really knows what’s in their brain? And who knows that women don’t have the same inclination but feel too guilty to leave?” she said.

While Chamberlain’s report did not look into the state of relationships before diagnoses, nor into who drove the eventual divorce, he said that a longer relationship before diagnosis indicated couples were more likely to survive the bad news.

And, the comforting fact remains that most couples weather the shock of a cancer or MS diagnosis together. Greenstein said: “The vast majority of men don’t leave their wives.”

– Daily Mail

Share this article: