Eleven years ago this month I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Being told you have cancer is one of the most frightening things that can happen to you. I survived 10 breast cancer surgeries and eight rounds of chemo, but I didn’t do it alone. I did it with the grace of God; great medical treatment; a loving husband who went to every doctor visit, lab test and hospital stay and friends who were there in every way imaginable.
I know of a woman who wasn’t as fortunate. Her story will make you question everything you think you know about people.
“Carol” was 44-years-old with late Stage IV breast cancer. If you don’t know what that means, there is no Stage V. “Paul,” her husband of nine years, no longer wanted to be her caregiver. He was tired of cancer; tired of having a wife who didn’t feel well; a wife he was no longer attracted to; one who didn’t feel like having sex. His solution to “his problem” was to have his girlfriend move in with them.
Paul moved his wife into the guest room, where she could hear her husband and his girlfriend having sex while she lay in bed, alone, dying in pain. What kind of man does this? What kind of woman gets involved with such a low-life, and how did Carol wind-up with no alternatives?
I’ve tried to put myself in Carol’s position. What does it feel like to be abandoned with such demonic, almost casual cruelty? What does it feel like to have your self-worth thrown out like yesterday’s garbage by the man who promised to love you till death do you part? Sadly there are countless women around the world who are alone and in less than ideal conditions as they cope with end of life issues.
My friend does volunteer work in Vietnam and meets dying women who’ve been abandoned by their husbands. These women have no money for food or shelter, much less assistance of any kind. The lucky ones huddle together in stairwells, or two to three to a lawn chair in the sweltering humidity of a parking lot. Another friend and breast cancer survivor told me similar stories about women in her home country of Rwanda.
Breast cancer’s dirty little secret is that almost twenty-five percent of American husbands leave their wives after they’ve been diagnosed. It happened to a friend of mine. She was devastated and terrified, and she had friends and resources. Every day she asked God to hold her hand, repeating it like a mantra: “Please, God, don’t let go of my hand. Please, God, don’t let go of my hand.” Then she had to make a conscious decision to find a way to move on with her life.
I want to hold these women and tell them they didn’t do anything to deserve to be outcast and abandoned. I know there are countries where survival of the fittest defines the basics of everyday life, but Paul lived in the wealthiest country in the world. He had a car, a job and a home. He had a choice. Carol did not.
It’s a good thing forgiveness is God’s responsibility and not mine, because guys like Paul give new meaning to the word “scum.”