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Dying in Cancer’s Wilderness

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Every week I hear from lots of women. They tell me stories that inspire and some that make me question the nature and future of mankind. This is one of those stories. “Rhonda” is 44 years old and has late Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. “Mike,” her husband of nine years, has gone as far as he wants to go as her caregiver and has asked his girlfriend to move in with him and Rhonda. It seems as though Mike is “tired” of cancer; tired of having a wife who doesn’t feel well, a wife he’s no longer attracted to and one who’s not interested in sex.

On the other hand, Mike’s girlfriend is healthy, younger and seems to have given Mike a new lease on life in the bedroom. But wait… There’s more. Mike has moved his wife into the guest room where she can hear her husband and his new girlfriend making love as she lies in bed alone, in pain, waiting to die. There is no delicate way of describing this demeaning end to a life and a marriage that at one time, had love and promise, but Mike and his girlfriend have given new meaning to the word “scum.”

Over and over I’ve asked myself what kind of man does this; what kind of girlfriend gets involved with a man like Mike, and how did Rhonda windup being so vulnerable that she feels she has no other option? I know what it’s like to be without my husband and to literally have no family, except for my mother who has dementia, but I have dear friends who would be there if I needed help. I’ve tried to put myself in Rhonda’s position. What must it feel like to be so lost and alone and without resources? What must if feel like to have your self worth thrown out like yesterday’s trash?

Sadly, there are endless variations to Rhonda’s story, women who are alone and in less than ideal settings as they go through breast cancer treatment and cope with end of life issues. My friend and fellow breast cancer blogger, Terri Wingham at A Fresh Chapter, recently wrote a blog about meeting women in Vietnam who’ve been abandoned by their husbands and left to fend for themselves with no money for food or treatment for their breast cancer. Another friend and breast cancer survivor, Philippa Kibugu-Decuir of Breast Cancer Initiative East Africa, has told me similar stories about women in her home country of Rwanda.

What must it be like to be treated as though you are to blame for your breast cancer, told that you are no longer wanted or valued? Some of this heartless behavior is a result of an uneducated populace in countries where survival of the fittest defines the basics of everyday life. Mike, however, lives in the wealthiest country in the world where he has a college education, a car, a job, a modern home and food in his refrigerator. So, how do the “Mikes” of the world come to be that way? Where does their lack of respect for life and family come from?

I wonder if the actions of other men influence them, men like John who ran for President of the United States, whose girlfriend gave birth to his child while his wife, Elizabeth, was fighting Stage IV breast cancer? Yes, these men give new meaning to the word “scum” along with “shallow,” “selfish” and “cruel.”