Women Dying Alone - 1010 Park Place
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Women Dying Alone

Photo credit, Carolyn Taylor
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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.”

Love, Brenda

22 Comments

  • Jennifer Connolly July 19, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    Amazing Brenda! I had no idea the statistic was so high of husbands who leave their wives, after a breast cancer diagnosis. Shocking.

    • 1010 Park Place July 20, 2015 at 5:50 pm

      Jennifer,
      It is shocking! Traditionally, men haven’t been raised to be caregivers. I’m hoping our generation will raise more sensitive, caring, family men.
      XOXOX,
      Brenda

  • Surroundings by Debi July 19, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    My current husband lost his first wife to breast cancer and has seen first had those that do not stay with their spouse. How very sad that so many women have to face this terrifying time in their life alone. Thank you for sharing this post to let others know of this situation. I am sure it will open many eyes. And so happy you were blessed with your wonderful caring husband. Blessings, Debi

    • 1010 Park Place July 20, 2015 at 6:28 pm

      Debi,
      Women, who marry men who’ve stood by their wives through a terminal illness, are so blessed and fortunate to have found these good men. I don’t think it’s as natural for men to be caregivers as it is for women. Cherish him! I’d give anything to say “Thank you,” one more time to James…
      Brenda

  • paulakiger July 20, 2015 at 7:29 am

    Definitely an eye opener. Thanks for sharing, especially your personal story.

    • 1010 Park Place July 20, 2015 at 5:51 pm

      Thanks, Paula! Love seeing you here!

  • Helene Bludman July 20, 2015 at 7:30 am

    That is so terribly sad. Losing that lifeline when you are at your lowest point must be devastating.

    • 1010 Park Place July 20, 2015 at 5:53 pm

      When I first learned about “Carol,” she’d already died, but I knew how to contact “Paul.” Believe me, I thought about it. I was so angry, but knew nothing would change. Nothing good would come from it, so I had to let that anger go, but I will never forget.

  • carla birnberg July 20, 2015 at 7:32 am

    No words. None. Just shock.

    • 1010 Park Place July 20, 2015 at 5:55 pm

      I know…. It makes you wonder how well you know your next door neighbor, the husband of a girlfriend, anyone for that matter.

  • Rena July 20, 2015 at 8:27 am

    You know I used to tease my husband all of the time that if I ever got sick he would be gone in days. Then one day I did, he never left my side for a second even moving into the hospital with me. It’s been 4 1/2 years and while I can do a lot of stuff myself these days he’s still there to be my support in all ways. I thought I had a Paul, what I really had was an Angel, and I thank God for him every single day.

    • 1010 Park Place July 20, 2015 at 6:14 pm

      Oh, Rena!
      Just what we needed to hear after reading about “Paul.” Blessings to you and your Angel. My husband was my Angel. Since his death, I like to think he’s become more of an official Angel.
      XOXOX,
      Brenda

  • claudoo July 20, 2015 at 8:38 am

    Horrible. I can’t even imagine, Brenda. You’re right, we are so very lucky and there are many out there who do not have the resources and support. It’s terrible.

    • 1010 Park Place July 20, 2015 at 6:16 pm

      Claudia,
      I’d like to encourage all of us to reach out to anyone we think is in need, or alone in tough times. So many women who find themselves in a situation like this are too proud to ask a friend, or a neighbor, for help.
      XOXO,
      Brenda

  • Elaine @ OMG Lifestyle Blog July 20, 2015 at 10:29 am

    So incredibly sad! Gob bless those that are faced with such a tragedy and give them strength to get through it.

    • 1010 Park Place July 20, 2015 at 6:18 pm

      Amen. As you well know, it takes a lot of strength to get our loved ones and ourselves through tough times. xoxo

  • mamavalveeta03 July 20, 2015 at 10:38 am

    What a horrific story! I’m so glad that you had James by your side. My own dear friend is a survivor of Stage 4 Inflammatory Breast Cancer, and has a wonderful husband to lean on. I took her to Dr’s appointments because I didn’t want her driving a long way in her weakened condition. (Believe it or not, there is a complete lack of services out here on the tip of Long Island. Southampton or Riverhead, which take a good hour and a half to reach in the tourist months, are the closest facilities for oncology. But that’s another story…)

    And it has touched my daughter’s life in that her husband lost his first wife to cancer one year after their wedding. Oddly enough, it was through Gilda’s Club, a wonderful organization for people touched by cancer, that the two of them met: John was attending a widower support group and serving on the Board of Directors, and my daughter, Jordan, served on the Board, also. Love struck when they co-chaired a major event. They married last Fall, have a 2-year old daughter, and another one on the way. Life can be full again!

    • 1010 Park Place July 20, 2015 at 6:23 pm

      Val,
      Thank you for your personal and uplifting stories about the circle of life. You’re a great friend to drive her to her appointments. She shouldn’t have been driving.

      I’ve long been familiar with Gilda’s Club. They do great work. I met my late friend, Susan, through them. She took chemo and lived with Stage IV breast cancer for 14 years! I can’t imagine the strength and will of iron it took, but I do know she had lots of loving support and a husband who was devastated when she died. I’m happy that John picked up his life and he and Jordan found one another.
      XOXOX,
      Brenda

  • Esther Zimmer July 23, 2015 at 6:26 am

    Your story is incredible, Brenda. Carol’s story, however, is almost beyond belief. Although I think I’m actually more shocked by the girlfriend than the husband as yes, he’s obviously a terrible person, but what woman does that to another? I cried thinking of Carol lying there alone hearing them in another room. And then I cried again reading about the women in Vietnam. Thank you for bringing such powerful stories to this space and for reminding us that we need to be sensitive to what our loved ones, or even the sad stranger sitting beside us on the bus, may be going through. It makes me think differently and reminds me to keep looking outward, not in, because there are so many others experiencing challenges that I cannot even imagine. xx

    • 1010 Park Place July 26, 2015 at 9:30 pm

      Esther,
      Sometimes it helps us to get outside of ourselves so we can see that whatever we’re facing, there’s someone else out there we wouldn’t want to trade places with. The girlfriend… I’ve thought a lot about her and would like to know her story. Perhaps she’s so needy that any attention is better than none, but then again, what if life’s been so hard that’s she’s just walled all of her feelings off?
      XOXOXO,
      Brenda

  • Jan Baird Hasak July 25, 2015 at 9:38 pm

    This is so tragic, and unfortunately more prevalent than we like to think. As a now-divorced stage IV breast cancer patient who had been through the ringer, but not as badly as Carol has, I applaud you for bringing this issue to your readers’ attention. No one should have to die alone, and I pray I won’t have to. At least I have caring friends to turn to in times of real need. xxx

    • 1010 Park Place July 26, 2015 at 9:34 pm

      Until after James died, it never occurred to me that I might die alone. We’ve all know women of a certain age who go after the first man that appears on their radar. So many of them pay a horrific price for settling for Mr. Right Now instead of Mr. Right.
      XOXO,
      Brenda

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