WANTED: A partner for richer or poorer

and for better or worse and absolutely,

positively in sickness and in health.


I love this column from the Boston Globe, and you’ll see why:

Will he hold your purse?
By Robin Schoenthaler
October 4, 2009

As a breast cancer doctor, I’ve learned how to spot a devoted husband -- a skill I try to share with my single and searching girlfriends.
“Everything I know about marriage I learned in my cancer clinic.”

I’ve been known to say this to my friends, maybe more than once, maybe even causing some of them to grind their teeth and grumble about Robin and Her Infernal Life Lessons.

I can’t help myself. I’ve worked as a breast cancer doctor for 20 years, I’ve watched thousands of couples cope with every conceivable (and sometimes unimaginable) kind of crisis, and I’ve seen all kinds of marriages, including those that rise like a beacon out of the scorched-earth terror that is a cancer clinic.

It’s a privilege to witness these couples, but the downside is I find myself muttering under my breath when my single female friends show me their ads for online dating. “Must like long walks on beach at sunset, cats,” they write, or “French food, kayaking, travel.” Or a perennial favorite: “Looking for fishing buddy; must be good with bait.” These ads make me want to climb onto my cancer doctor soapbox and proclaim, “Finding friends with fine fishing poles may be great in the short term. But what you really want to look for is somebody who will hold your purse in the cancer clinic.”

It’s one of the biggest take-home lessons from my years as an oncologist: When you’re a single woman picturing the guy of your dreams, what matters a heck of lot more than how he handles a kayak is how he handles things when you’re sick. And one shining example of this is how a guy deals with your purse.

I became acquainted with what I’ve come to call great “purse partners” at a cancer clinic in Waltham. Every day these husbands drove their wives in for their radiation treatments, and every day these couples sat side by side in the waiting room, without much fuss and without much chitchat. Each wife, when her name was called, would stand, take a breath, and hand her purse over to her husband. Then she’d disappear into the recesses of the radiation room, leaving behind a stony-faced man holding what was typically a white vinyl pocketbook. On his lap. The guy -- usually retired from the trades, a grandfather a dozen times over, a Sox fan since date of conception -- sat there silently with that purse. He didn’t read, he didn’t talk, he just sat there with the knowledge that 20 feet away technologists were preparing to program an unimaginably complicated X-ray machine and aim it at the mother of his kids.

I’d walk by and catch him staring into space, holding hard onto the pocketbook, his big gnarled knuckles clamped around the clasp, and think, “What a prince.”

I’ve worked at cancer clinics all around Boston since then, and I’ve seen purse partners from every walk of life, every age and stage. Of course, not every great guy accompanies his wife to her oncology appointment every day -- some husbands are home holding down the fort, or out earning a paycheck and paying the health insurance premiums -- but I continue to have a soft spot for the pocketbook guy. Men like him make me want to rewrite dating ads from scratch.

WANTED: A partner for richer or poorer and for better or worse and absolutely, positively in sickness and in health. A partner for fishing and French food and beach walks and kayak trips, but also for phone calls from physicians with biopsy results. A guy who knows that while much of marriage is a 50-50 give-and-take, sometimes it’s more like 80-20, and that’s OK, even when the 80-20 phase goes on and on. A man who truly doesn’t care what somebody’s breast looks like after cancer surgery, or at least will never reveal that he’s given it a moment’s thought. A guy who’s got some comfort level with secretions and knows the value of a cool, damp washcloth. A partner who knows to remove the computer mouse from a woman’s hand when she types phrases like “breast cancer death sentence” in a Google search. And, most of all, a partner who will sit in a cancer clinic waiting room and hold hard onto the purse on his lap.

Robin Schoenthaler is a radiation oncologist at the MGH Department of Radiation Oncology at Emerson Hospital in Concord.


This is from a very wise friend from Ghana:

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up, She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, "Tell me what you see."

"Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg.

Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, "What does it mean, mother?"

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently.

The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.

The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened.

The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

Which are you?" she asked her daughter. "When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?"

Think of this: Which am I?

Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases to the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy.

The happiest of people don't necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way. The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can't go forward in life until you let go of your past failures and heartaches.


Ann Sentilles has an interesting post on her blog, The Third Third, about the phenomenon of adult children moving back in with their parents, due to the tough economy. She's writing off a New York Times story, saying it that piece "should, probably make us all stop and think about what we're willing to do under the aegis of 'family' and what's healthy and what's not." See Caught in the Safety Net for the NYT story. Go to the blog section of The Third Third to see what Ann and her readers have to say on the subject.

Come to think of it, I was one of those bratty returnees who lived with (or off) my parents for a period of about six months, long ago. Yes, they provided a safety net, and I would never deny how grateful I was for their support. But, in my case, those few months reflected the most compassionate parenting they ever provided to either me or my brother since our birth, and luckily for me, they did it when I really, really needed it.

The week of my 30th birthday, I arrived at my parents’ home dangerously thin, battered and bruised, carrying my 20-month-old son. It wasn’t my choice to move back in with them, but I had run from a dangerous situation, had no money and no other choices. Believe me, I had already surveyed friends with spare rooms, and no one was willing to take us in. That’s what parents are for, they said.

It wasn’t easy for me to ask for help, since I had fled their home when I was 17 and married – against all their good advice – at 19. Now, here I was knocking on their door. 

At first, living with my folks was like being on a very low-budget vacation. The two of them scurried around trying to make the baby and me comfortable. They let me sleep. They bought a stroller. They showed us around the town they had just moved to, and introduced me to some of their friends. My dad built a sandbox in the back yard. My mother talked about quitting her job, so she could “help with the baby.” 

Mostly, I remember feeling somewhat horrified, like I had moved into an assistant living center and my parents were recreation directors. Thinking back, I realize they both were in their late 50s, and still very much in the workforce. At 30, you don't know much.

For the first few months, my mom and dad provided a room, food and disposable diapers with the understanding that, as soon as I had income, I would pay for my own stuff and chip into the general fund. Until then, I offered to cook and clean, do laundry, run errands, take them to and pick them up from work, and do anything else they needed. I expected them to be happy with that. They weren’t. They let me do the errands and driving, but they didn’t like my cleaning technique or the (organic) food I cooked. So, I just kept out of their hair. 

Soon after my boy and I got there, I went into high gear, knowing our days at their home were numbered. Got a haircut, driver’s license, library card, babysitter, promise of a job, all in the first 6-8 weeks. After that, we left for three months so I could finish graduate school with some money I borrowed from my dad (and paid back as soon as I began teaching the next fall). The baby and I shared a dorm room and ate in the dining hall, while I studied and worked on my master’s thesis. Then, it was back to the folks’ and the start of a full-time teaching job. 

A little over three months into that job, my mother announced it was time for us to leave. She told me this around Christmas, setting February 1 as our drop-dead moving date. I was shocked, but understood their need to regain control over their living space. Not that we were really hard on it. I had borrowed an old car from a friend, took the baby to a babysitter every day (even though my mother had quit her job to help), and made monthly contributions of almost half my paycheck to the food/shelter fund. I thought we were leaving a pretty light footprint, but I guess not. They needed their space. It was understandable. 

Until she died last year, my mother told the story over and over again about how she “almost raised” my son. After all, he lived in their house when he was a baby! 

That’s not how I remember it, but, hey, whatever floats your boat. Thanks, Mom and Dad! 


Our friend Jacqui has followed up with her own post on domestic violence in response to several posts and comments on this blog. Be sure to read her take, from the perspective of a writer and psychologist based on the other side of the pond. You go girl!

See www.dirtysparkle.blogspot.com and go to Asking for It, in the April posts. 

Thank you, Jacqui, for keeping the conversation going!


As horrible as it is for any individual woman to be punched and choked and slammed and kicked, the real tragedy, to me, is the legacy a violent act leaves for others. What it does to those who care about the victim and whoever threw the punches, especially when the people involved are famous. 

Remember when guys joked that there was no such thing as rape? I do. It wasn't so long ago, either. And, it wasn't only guys who blamed women for getting "what they asked for" because they wore the wrong clothes, walked down the wrong street, went out with the wrong guy, or did whatever they did to bring violence and violation upon themselves. (Then there was the theory that, not only do women ask for rape, they enjoy it. But, that's another story.)

All this is to say, when it came to defining rape in the 1960s, 1970s and maybe beyond, the lines sometimes blurred between victim and attacker, as well as normal and deviant behavior.

And that brings us to today. In the Chris and Rihanna thing, what looked like a pretty clear-cut act of violence perpetrated by an out-of-control young man against a defenseless woman, has changed into something much different. According to the media, it's no longer clear which of the two was the victim and which was the perp. In fact, it's no longer clear there was a crime committed. Maybe she just got what she asked for. Maybe he just got a bit carried away.

Whatever. But, don't believe for a minute that the battle between these two pop stars is limited to the courtroom, or even the media. No, it's being played out daily in school cafeterias, at bus stops and around office water coolers, where their fans take sides and sometimes fight each other. We can only wonder which side of the flying fist they'll be on, as they get older.  

Consider these excerpts from a story in last week's Village Voice (NY): 
(Click Read More to continue reading this post)

New Bird




I tripped over a very interesting blog published by a British psychology researcher/novelist. Be sure to read her post, found at Now for Something Serious. Welcome Jacqui!

See her blog, Dirty Sparkle, for more of her thoughts on writing and women's issues. Or, go to directly to this link for her take on the Chris Brown/Rihanna situation:


Robyn F. turned to face Brown and he punched her in the left eye with his right hand. He then drove away in the vehicle and continued to punch her in the face with his right hand while steering the vehicle with his left hand. The assault caused Robyn F.'s mouth to fill with blood and blood to splatter all over her clothing and the interior of the vehicle.

Brown looked at Robyn F. and stated, “I'm going to beat the s--t out of you when we get home! You wait and see!" Excerpt from a sworn disposition given by Rihanna (Robin Fenty) concerning Chris Brown’s attack on her before the Grammy Awards

I’ve been thinking a lot about the attempt baby-faced R&B singer Chris Brown made on the life of pop star Rihanna. 

That’s what I call it – attempted murder – but I see other people refer to the brutal incident as their “troubles,” his “problem,” the “alleged” attack. Some, including Emil Welbekin, editor of urban lifestyle magazine Giant predict “Brown will face challenges as a he wages a battle in the court of public opinion.”

I, for one, hope he goes before a criminal court, and is sentenced to prison for a long, long time. If you wanna fight to kill, I can’t think of a better place to practice than in a prison. 

Of course, Rihanna is hardly unique as a victim of domestic violence. She’s just the current poster girl. And, she’s still a victim because she’s apparently conflicted over whether to testify or not. (She had no choice in whether or not to press charges: The DA filed them for her, rightly seeing the threat to society a person like Chris Brown poses. The general public can’t always wait for victims to get ready to face their tormenter before it protects itself.) 
There are millions of survivors of similar abuse out there, like Rihanna, and millions more in their graves. 

According to a domestic violence awareness program sponsored by the USDA, law enforcement agencies say nearly 30 percent of female homicide victims were killed by their husbands, former husbands or boyfriends.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), in conjunction with Ms. Magazine, has a names project for those poor women. It’s called Remember My Name and you can view it here: http://www.ncadv.org/programs/RememberMyNameProject_119.html

My personal interest in this case stems from several years of abuse I suffered at the hand of a man I loved, many years ago. Looking back, I wish I could have seen more clearly what was going on. I wish he had gotten the help he needed long before I met him. It was terrible, because  -- like Chris Brown, I'm sure -- this man had many wonderful qualities. I just wish I had had the self-esteem to heed my instincts and get out of there long before the violence began.  And, I wish there had been laws in place to protect me and other women from abusive partners, but in the 1970s, that wasn’t the case.

A cop told me -- after I dialed 911 for help because I feared he would try to make good on his threat to kill me -- that I’d have to call while he was committing the crime. He said this with a straight face. Also, he said, I would need clear evidence of an actual injury (or death) and a witness to prove he actually caused it. Until that happened, the cop and his partner would check on me every now on then while they walked their beat. They promised. I thanked them, said goodbye, then slammed the deadbolt on the door.

This is what Rihanna said Chris did after she faked a call for help:

After Robyn F. faked the call, Brown looked at her and stated, “You just did the stupidest thing ever! Now I'm really going to kill you!”

Brown resumed punching Robyn F. and she interlocked her fingers behind her head and brought her elbows forward to protect her face. She then bent over at the waist, placing her elbows and face near her lap in [an] attempt to protect her face and head from the barrage of punches being levied upon her by Brown.

I’m heartened to know a death threat qualifies as a felony offense today. We don’t have to wait for the body to be carted to the morgue, or for witnesses willing to come forward and testify. And, the cops who found the bloodied, bruised and hysterical Rihanna walking the streets of Los Angeles in the middle of the night, offered her their cell phones and tried to comfort her. They took her seriously.

Now it’s time for her fans, and everyone else, to take this attack seriously. It’s not something we should brush under the rug, so they can “get on with their careers,” as regrettable as the attack may be. We all do things we regret. But, fortunately, we all don't pummel people who say mean things to us. We all don't try to strangle those who catch us in a lie. And, if we do, most of us realize we’ll be locked up before we actually make good on such a threat. 

Domestic abusers – and their cousins, rapists – prey on those they have successfully controlled or believe they can control, either through intimidation or threat. They don’t attack people stronger than themselves, or people they’re sure will fight back or give the courts the chance to fight for them. They’re smart and good at sizing up people and situations. They know exactly when and how they can get away with (threatened, near, or real) murder.

Despite what you may read in People magazine or hear on the entertainment shows, the victim isn’t the bad guy here. It doesn’t matter what Rihanna said to him or didn’t say. It doesn’t matter if she was nice, horrible or a little of each. She was a mouse waiting to be pounced on by a hawk, and if had not happened that night, it surely would have happened some other time.

And, by the way, domestic violence is an equal opportunity crime. It doesn’t discriminate on the basis of race, gender, age, economic or educational background. 

He then placed her in a head lock positioning the front of her throat between his bicep and forearm. Brown began applying pressure to Robyn F.'s left and right carotid arteries, causing her to be unable to breathe and she began to lose consciousness.

She reached up with her left hand and began attempting to gouge his eyes in an attempt to free herself.

I could not extricate myself from an abusive relationship until I felt safe enough to do so. Many miles had to be between us, and I desperately needed the support of my family and close friends. I couldn't talk about it, bear to defend my decision to leave, or explain why I had stayed so long. I asked people to simply trust me when I said I made the only decision possible, under the circumstances. Several of those I needed the most were not able to do that.  

Let's hope Rihanna, and all the others out there in similarly dangerous situations, get the support they need to make the choice to live. Apparently, it doesn't matter how much fame or money you've got. You still have to make that choice on your own.

And, let's hope society wakes up to the need to deal with abusers at the very first sign of violence, even if they’re still in school. Chris Brown is only 19. Imagine what he’ll be like at 30 if he’s not stopped now!

At the same time, we need to give their prey – mostly girls and young women – the tools, the strength and the know-how to size up a dangerous situation and get out before they get hurt. I know we’ve been trying to do this for years in Take Back the Night, Domestic Violence-Free Zones and other programs, but clearly, we need to take this problem much more seriously.

Life is good! Don't waste one day of it in a toxic relationship!

My two cents.