Looking back upon my life, I, like many, am able to pinpoint the exact moments that changed my life forever. Sure, getting married, having babies and buying a home were all major milestones, but what really stopped me in my tracks was the instant I heard the words "You have cancer." My life changed drastically and forever in a mere instant. Everything went fuzzy. I had trouble listening to the rest of what the doctor was saying. Really, I couldn't think straight. Seeking reassurance, I decided to focus on my husband's face. His expression was blank, but I knew within seconds his eyes were filled with fear, pure and simple.
You see, cancer is a real game changer. It was in mid-December of 2009, I was only 41 years old when I had been diagnosed with stage III colon cancer. I didn't smoke, and I wasn't overweight, so I was an unlikely candidate for colon cancer. I had heard that certain types of cancer, like colorectal cancer, ran in some families, but there was no family history in ours. Yet, I had overlooked a few telltale signs, like the fact that for months I had been craving and chewing on ice, which meant I was anemic. And except for the anemia, and evidence of a small amount of blood in my stool, I felt completely healthy.
My normal routine of being a mother to three children, a housewife and local real estate agent were replaced with endless doctor visits, PET scans, chemotherapy treatments and radiation therapy. But as I geared up for the battle of my life, my husband started demonstrating a lack of willingness to fight by my side. I was heartbroken. My husband chose to sleep in a separate bedroom from the moment he heard the diagnosis. He insisted I would sleep better alone but truly, I should have seen this as a red flag. Every time he'd pull away it felt like he'd put a bullet in my heart, just when I needed him most.
So, after 10 years of marriage, on Father's Day 2010, my husband callously abandoned me during my second round of chemotherapy treatments, leaving my three kids and me penniless. As the days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, panic set in as I began to feel the enormous impact of losing spousal support. Sadly, I became the epitome of a desperate housewife, unable to focus on my health after I was left all alone on the cancer battlefield.
If all that wasn't shocking enough, after my doctors found out about our separation, they informed me that women in the U.S. are seven times more likely to separate or divorce than were male patients, fighting cancer. It is unthinkable, but true. Statistics exist supporting that, for wives, cancer can spell divorce. The same year I was diagnosed with cancer, a study was released in The Cancer Journal, stating that when wives get cancer, 21 percent of husbands leave; when husbands get cancer only 3 percent of wives leave. I had never even considered "in sickness and in health" could be a lopsided vow.
Don't get me wrong. Not all men desert their wives. The majority of them show loyalty and devotion to their mates. Armed with the knowledge that separation and divorce carries the poorest survival outcome for female cancer patients, I found a cause worth fighting for. Married women need to be informed that husbands are leaving their wives soon after diagnosis at a disproportionate rate.
I am grateful for my second chance at life, and I chose to draw upon my experiences and get involved with cancer related activities and causes as my way of giving back. My cancer and divorce were blessings in disguise. During my last round of chemotherapy I started journaling, never realizing that I was embarking on the completion of a lifelong desire to write a memoir. RAW: One Woman's Journey through Love, Loss, and Cancer isn't just about being deserted during my cancer diagnosis; it includes my surviving almost every woman's worst fears, and ends up with me discovering myself.
Titled with intent, RAW spells WAR backwards, since cancer is like war; brutal, leaving survivors, and, hopefully, peace. As one of nearly 14 million cancer survivors, I understand and empathize with all those who feel stuck under the darkest clouds waiting for a ray of sunshine or hope that they are not alone.
Since I didn't want to become just another victim, I decided to fight back and make a difference in the fight against cancer. Now, the 'Big C' in my life will always be my children. What I offer is a simple dose of encouragement, from a brave woman, a soldier, and a cancer survivor who has fought the fight against cancer alone, and lived to tell her survival tale.
Fiona Finn is the author of RAW: One Woman's Journey Through Love, Loss, and Cancer.