According to the Cancer study, patients who divorced or separated after their diagnosis were more likely to be prescribed antidepressants and less likely to participate in potentially lifesaving clinical trials. In other words, weathering abandonment while struggling for your life can dramatically affect your fight. Marianne,* who married her second husband just one year before her breast cancer diagnosis in 2005, found this to be heartbreakingly true. "For the first six months, Gregory* was so sweet and kind," says the former president of a nonprofit, now in her 50s. But by the time the couple had flown across the country to a first-rate cancer center for Marianne's mastectomy, things had changed: On New Year's Eve, just two days after her surgery, Gregory left her sore and drugged in the hotel while he went out to celebrate. "The relationship fell apart after that," Marianne says. Once they got home, Gregory started staying out late and always had excuses for not driving his wife to chemo.
"It would have been easier if I were single," says Marianne, "because then I wouldn't have expected anything." With no relatives nearby, she went through treatment alone. Her doctors eventually recommended that she see a psychiatrist, who put her on an antidepressant. Marianne says her children kept her going in her darkest moments; without them, she would have been tempted to give up.
The Cancer study concluded that longer unions tend to be more durable in the face of illness, meaning that new marriages—like Cassidy's and Marianne's—are particularly vulnerable. "When I met Gregory I was very successful in my career, I was a prominent person in my community, I had a beautiful home," says Marianne. "When, a year later, I became a sick, disfigured, needy woman, Gregory was like, 'This is not what I signed up for.' He hadn't known me long enough to know I wouldn't always be that way."
There is a silver lining for couples facing the unthinkable. Partners who band together to fight an illness report increased closeness. Some women say disease forced them to lean on their spouses, which helped make their partners feel essential for the first time. "I'm now more secure in our marriage," says Jennifer White, 47, of Fort Mill, South Carolina, an accountant who had to rely on her husband, David, during her breast cancer treatment. "I trust him more than ever before, because we've been through the worst together," she says. "And he's still here."
Next: The Couples' Survival Guide
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