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Cancer Health Center

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Cancer Hard on Marriages


He says that marriage problems are especially common when women have tumors in the frontal lobes of the brain. These tumors "work the same way as a lobotomy," he says. The patient is left with a completely "flat effect. No emotional response."

Cancer doesn't always mean the end of a marriage, though. Lawrence Prescott of San Diego didn't leave his wife when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, but instead became the "primary caregiver for her and our two children, who were 6 and 9." Prescott tells WebMD that he and his wife were married for 16 years when she was initially diagnosed and were married "20 years when she died in 1981."

He says the hardest part for him was when his wife developed difficulty speaking, a condition called aphasia. As a couple they went from being a very bright, in-sync pair, to a couple that communicated through a sort of guessing game "when I would ask questions to find out what she needed." Also gone was her love of word games and in its place was a fascination with "stupid television shows that we would watch for hours."

Although the experience was wearing, Prescott says, "if you love somebody, this is what you do."

Frank G. Haluska, MD, PhD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, tells WebMD that he thinks it is the severity of disease that disrupts marriage. Haluska says he specializes in treating melanoma, a deadly skin cancer. Treatment often requires very long and debilitating chemotherapy. "In this disease it is often the treatment that can cause problems in the marriage," he says.

He, too, says that he assesses patients for signs of marital disruption but that he hasn't observed "men leaving women. In fact, I had the reverse with one man who was the patient and his wife left him."

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