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For Women, Cancer Spells Divorce

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It looks like some men slept through the "in sickness and in health" part of the marriage vow. When a woman gets diagnosed with cancer, she's far more likely to end up divorced than if a man gets the same diagnosis.

nurse holding womans hand in wheelchair

Ronda Kaysen: According to a recent study, 21 percent of female cancer patients ended up divorced or separated after a cancer diagnosis. Compare that with the three percent of men who ended up in the same boat after their diagnosis, and you've got yourself one very lopsided picture.

When you take a closer look at the data, the story is even bleaker. In marriages that were on the rocks before cancer entered the equation, wives were more likely to put the brakes on a divorce when they found out their husbands were sick, whereas husbands did just the opposite when their wives got a bad bit of health news and jumped ship. The marriages that are most at risk are young ones. Couples who've been together for a long time tend to stick it out through illness.

"The striking part is with life-threatening illness, how often women are abandoned compared to men. That does not speak very well of my gender," Dr. Marc Chamberlain, who led the study, told The New York Times.

Chamberlain seems to think that women stick around because of their role in the family. After all, women tend to be the caretakers. "There clearly is an emotional attachment women have to spouse, family, and home that in times of stress causes women to hunker down and deal with it, while men may want to flee," he said.

This is not good news for women. People battling cancer need all the support they can get, and when husbands leave, women are less likely to try alternative treatments, stay on their medications, or get good hospice care, according to Chamberlain.

I can't imagine what it would be like to get a cancer diagnosis and then see your marriage -- and family support -- crumble around you. It's horrible to think that men would abandon their wives at the time they need family support the most.

35 comments so far | Post a comment now
Black Iris November 16, 2009, 5:30 AM

Let’s not forget that 80% of the time, the guys are staying with their wives.

Of course, the guys who leave are jerks.

Christina November 16, 2009, 12:19 PM

Alas, some of that 79% of men who are not divorcing their cancer-diagnosed wives are cheating on them. This happened to a friend (yes, an actual friend not a “friend of a friend”) of mine. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and her husband’s method of coping with it was to avoid her (because it’s contagious?) and have an affair with a 20 year old while she was undergoing treatment. Happy to say she is fully recovered and has since dumped his sorry a**, but really, who needs to deal with that crap when you’re fighting for your life?

Kris November 16, 2009, 12:53 PM

Let’s not forget the national average is more than double this. Which means that 50% less divorces are happening in this population.

N November 17, 2009, 12:18 AM

further proving that men are jerks and nothing has ever really changed

Steve December 11, 2009, 12:44 PM

So easy to be misandric in this venue, I’m sure; however, N, there are many more kind, loving, devoted husbands and fathers than there are men who divorce their wives who have cancer.

We are not in their lives, so to each of these invididual cases that exist in a very small segment of the population, you would blame one in a relationship based on their gender.

Let me ask you a completely logical question. If that indeed can be true, then then PLEASE explain how ALL women are not jerks, considering 70% of the divorces in the REST of the population are filed by women?

Since there is nothing logical about your statement, then there can be nothing logical about your response to the question. I’ve known more than a handful of men and women who have suffered from cancer, heart disease, brain tumors and HIV, and in none of those cases did their significant other abandon them.

No matter what statistics are used to prove a point one wants to prove, one cannot move to ALL (fill in race, religion, gender here) are anything as that would make you a racist, Nazi, or sexist. Although you don’t want the label, you live up to the content.

Anonymous December 11, 2009, 6:50 PM

I am one of those women. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and my soon to be ex informed me that chemo and cancer were no big deal. He said he wasn’t losing $160 to stay home with me when I felt sick after my 1st round of chemo. After almost 18 yrs. of marriage not once did he, his Mom, or his 4 sisters send a card or call to see how I was. He refused to pay support and had to go to court to get temporary support for me and my 2 children. He is refusing to pay the medical bills insurance doesn’t cover and 6 weeks after my double masectomy told judge I should get full time job cause I was walking and talking. Prior to having cancer I was already on disability due to a back injury, but now with the cancer I’m all better! Oh yes and he has a girlfriend too!

Anonymous December 11, 2009, 6:56 PM

I posted earlier. And yes I did do the filing because if I hadn’t he would have been content to just continue on with his girlfriend and show up when he felt like it! I have 2 friends who have cancer whose husbands are cheating on them. they did not however file for divorce. Battling for my life is hard enough!!!

Anonymous December 11, 2009, 7:01 PM

Icommented earlier. I did the filing, but he did the abandonement. He would have been content to leave things as they were and continue on with the abuse and have his girlfriend too. I have 2 friends who have cancer, they did not file for divorce but both their husbands are cheating on them.

Anonymous December 11, 2009, 7:02 PM

Icommented earlier. I did the filing, but he did the abandonement. He would have been content to leave things as they were and continue on with the abuse and have his girlfriend too. I have 2 friends who have cancer, they did not file for divorce but both their husbands are cheating on them.

Anonymous January 3, 2010, 5:51 PM

20% isn’t so bad in and of itself, I suppose, but seven times as many women as men isn’t a great statistic. It’s even more depressing that this scientifically trained doctor thinks that women just “have” an emotional attachment that men don’t — as if it’s biological. It’s not. Women are socialized to be caretakers from the time are born, and taught to feel guilty if they do not fulfill those roles.

John January 29, 2010, 12:39 AM

I tried to do all I could for my wife when she was diagnosed with cancer. It was after the chemo was done and she had a “clean” bill of health that she told me I had to move out. I’d never have left her, but she kicked me out.

west February 11, 2010, 4:54 PM

omg people! get a life and stop with the men bashing and victimization foolishness!
people are jerks because they are just jerks. people are kind because they are kind - not b/c they are male or female. give me a break. bad things don’t happen to good people - bad things just happen.


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