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Shannon Koehle: Are Divorce Rates Higher Among Women With Breast Cancer?

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Women diagnosed with terminal breast cancer may be susceptible to higher divorce rates.

As the American Society of Clinical Oncology told CNN, “Terminally ill cancer patients have a higher-than-average divorce rate, and it’s almost always the husband leaving his sick wife.”

Unable to deal with additional stressors, husbands can quickly feel overwhelmed and neglect their own needs, says Deborah Halpern, communications director for the National Family Caregivers Association.

“They forget to care for themselves,” she says. “They still need to eat properly even though the wife is not cooking, take their own medications, and take personal time away.”

Similarly, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation says, “Do not be afraid to talk about your feelings.”

They suggest partners communicate their concerns and fear with each other. It is a lack of communication that “can create a wall between you and actually cause you to grow apart.”

Halpern, who survived breast cancer with her marriage intact, says it is also important to focus on the “physical and emotional needs of the wife” undergoing the cancer treatment.

Some husbands do not know how to help their wives. However, Halpern says the best way to know what is right is following “your gut instinct.”

However, despite information that suggests the divorce rate is climbing for those with breast cancer, BreastCancer.org says, this is incorrect.

“Divorce rates are not higher among couples in which a woman has had breast cancer,” they say.

Similarly, they report just as many women leave husbands who are diagnosed with breast cancer as men who leave their wives.

As they say, “Breast cancer is not good for relationships, but good relationships can be made stronger by sharing hardship.”

Additionally, a study at the Norwegian Cancer Registry suggests that while divorce is more likely for those who develop cervical or testicular cancer, breast cancer survivors were less likely to experience divorce.

Regardless of which partner is diagnosed with breast cancer, partners need to know it is beneficial to reach out for help.

As Halpern says, “Don’t pretend you can do it all, you can’t.

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