"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