My husband had an affair while I battled cancer
… and then I landed in a police cell for taking revenge on his mistress
22:44 GMT, 23 May 2012
Sitting on a steel bench in a cell, my bandaged right hand throbbing in pain, I am listening to the charges being read out against me and wondering how on earth my life has spiralled so out of control.
I’m a respectable 50-year-old mother-of-two. I’m so law-abiding, I don’t even cross the road until the little green man tells me to. I’ve got a good job, a family and responsibilities. Right now, I should be sitting in Winchester Cathedral listening to my daughter playing clarinet in her school Christmas carol concert.
Instead, I have just spent three hours in the Accident and Emergency department of my local hospital having my hand stitched up.
Before the storm: Tessa with Richard and her daughters, Elise (left) and Ellen, years before his affair
Afterwards I was arrested in the car park — something I have only ever seen happen on TV before — and charged with criminal damage. I have been driven in the back of a police car to the local nick where I’ve been fingerprinted and my mouth swabbed for DNA.
My Furla handbag and all its contents have been confiscated and apart from a call to a duty solicitor, I’ve been denied any contact with the outside world. It’s the lowest I’ve ever been, and yet, as I take in my surroundings — the barred heavy steel door, the toilet in the corner — I realise I feel free. The fury, the fear and the sadness which have enveloped me for more than a year are all gone.
I’ve been swept into this cell on a tidal wave of passion ever since my husband, Richard, confessed to having an affair.
Affairs happen all the time, of course. But what made this one so painful, was that the man who promised to love and treasure me until death us do part, conducted it while I was being treated for breast cancer.
'When I was diagnosed, Richard said, 'Darling, we’ll get through this — I promise you''
In the months since I first suspected the truth, I’ve been to hell and back. But, after one moment of madness, my anger is spent and for the first time in months, sitting here in this bleak little police cell, I feel calm and safe.
As the duty officer pulls aside the grille in the door and asks cheerily whether I’d like a cup of tea, I find myself almost smiling.
‘I bet you’re hungry, too, aren’t you’ he asks.
‘I certainly am,’ I say, acutely aware that I haven’t eaten since breakfast — a lifetime ago.
Soon he is back with a meal in a polystyrene carton. As I tuck in hungrily, I try to piece together the events which led me here.
Some of it still seems totally dreamlike. My cancer. Richard’s affair. My act of criminal damage at his girlfriend’s home. Has it all really happened
My life was totally normal until the morning in March 2007 when I was told at the Royal South Hampshire Hospital, Winchester, that I had cancer. The seemingly inconsequential lump in my right breast had turned out to be a tumour. It was the last thing I was expecting. There is no history of cancer in my family and I have always been slim and fit.
As I started crying in shock, Richard rushed to comfort me. Taking my hand, he gently asked the surgeon all the questions I was too panicked to even think about.
Shattered love: Tessa and Richard on their wedding day in 1997
I couldn’t concentrate as the surgeon explained that I would need a mastectomy, then a course of chemotherapy, followed by radiotherapy. I would lose my breast and, temporarily at least, all my hair. Months of agonising treatment stretched ahead which would leave me weak and sick.
‘Darling, we’ll get through this — I promise you,’ Richard said, squeezing my hand tight.
And, as I looked into his loving face — the strong jaw, the periwinkle-blue eyes — I thanked my lucky stars I had someone so caring and dependable to lean on. We had been married nine years and I loved him as much as I did the day we met.
Over the next few weeks, as I had surgery to remove my right breast which was riddled with cancer cells, I clung to Richard with a passion borne not just out of love but out of desperation. I needed him to keep me together.
'I suspected he was having an affair but when he denied it, I chose to believe him. I couldn’t afford to doubt him – my life depended on me staying strong'
When I stood in front of the mirror to see my maimed body for the first time after the operation, Richard was standing beside me. ‘You’re still beautiful. You always will be. You’re a brave, brave girl,’ he said as tears cascaded down my cheeks.
I felt closer to him at that moment than I’d ever done. But I knew this was hard for him. As well as running his gardening business, he had to do all the cooking and cleaning that I was far too exhausted to manage and look after my daughters from my first marriage, Ellen, then aged 15, and Elise, 14.
So I willingly agreed when, a few weeks later, Richard asked if he could go windsurfing with one of his clients. Karen Taylor was a widow in her mid-60s. I’d never met her but, from all Richard had told me over the years, I had built up a picture of a wealthy, independent-minded but very lonely woman.
As well as her four-bedroom home in Winchester, she owned a property in the Caribbean where she spent much of the year pursuing her passion for windsurfing. I knew all about her love of cooking, her interest in pottery and her charity work.
Richard came home that evening, his skin burnished by the wind, his eyes blazing with enthusiasm.
Recovered: Tessa, pictured with her daughters, beat cancer but couldn't mend her marriage after her husband's betrayal
‘It was fantastic,’ he raved. ‘Karen’s so experienced but she was very patient with a first timer like me. I’d love to go again.’
Sure enough Richard started going windsurfing every week. I was delighted to see him happy. /05/23/article-2148989-0B6B9B7800000578-78_233x646.jpg” width=”233″ height=”646″ alt=”Cautioned: Tessa caused criminal damage at the home of her husband's mistress after discovering their affair” class=”blkBorder” />
Cautioned: Tessa caused criminal damage at the home of her husband's mistress after discovering their affair
‘I know I should have come straight home. But I’ve been so worried about you and all you’re going through and I just needed time out.’
‘Are you having an affair with her’ I asked.
Richard looked outraged. ‘Of course not,’ he said. ‘How can you even imagine anything so daft She’s lonely and trying to be kind, that’s all.’
As he hugged me tight, I chose to believe him. The truth is I didn’t have a choice. I needed all my energy to fight the cancer and get through the treatment. I couldn’t afford to doubt him — not when my life depended on me staying strong and focused.
And so I buried my head so deep in the sand it would have taken a mechanical digger to dislodge it. It was the only way I knew to protect myself.
Over the ensuing months, I went out of my way to ignore every clue that Richard was cheating on me.
In some ways it was easy. After all, there was a part of me that still found it impossible to believe that Richard could really be having an affair — not when he was so devoted and loving. He tenderly shaved my head when all my hair fell out, held my sick bucket for me and took my mind off the horrors of what was going on by talking about all the exciting places we’d go and the things we’d do when I was better.
Finally, in December 2007 — ten months after I was diagnosed — the treatment was over and I could start trying to put my life back together again. I was ecstatic with the sheer joy of being alive and desperately hoped Richard would be too. But, where he had always been so gentle and loving, now he seemed cold and distant.
I told myself he was just suffering the after effects of the strain. But, deep down, I knew the truth. I had known for months. I just hadn’t had the strength to confront him. But finally, one day in October 2008, I sat him down.
‘I know you are having an affair. And you have to tell me the truth,’ I said.
His face clouded over.
‘I’ve behaved terribly,’ he wept. ‘Please forgive me.’
He begged for a second chance, promised the affair — which started some time before I fell ill — had meant nothing. I believed him. But I knew I could never trust or respect him again. When I needed him the most, he had betrayed me.
I’d spent so long keeping a lid on my emotions, you’d have thought that now I knew the truth, I’d take it calmly.
In fact the storm raging inside me was so cataclysmic I didn’t think I could breathe another day if I didn’t find a way of externalising it. And a lot of my fury centred on Karen Taylor. She knew I was ill. She knew I had cancer. Why had she slept with my husband
Questions haunted me. I didn’t even know what she looked like. I had to know and I had to confront her. And so I drove around to her house. My heart was thumping as I rang the doorbell. And suddenly there she was.
Hands on hips, she looked me up and down and I could see in her eyes that she realised exactly who I was and why I was there.
I opened my mouth to speak and she slammed the door in my face. And that’s when I lost it.
Red hot fury erupted in my gut and I hammered as hard as I could on the glass panel in her door. I hoped that if I could make a loud enough noise, expend enough of the adrenaline coursing inside me, I could exorcise some of the rage.
A married woman with a serious illness is six times more likely to be divorced or separated than a man
What I hadn’t accounted for was that my hand would go straight through the glass. Shards scattered onto the doormat. In the empty space, I could see her jumping back in alarm and, as I looked at my hand, I could see huge globules of blood.
A three-inch-long crescent-shaped cut ran along the heel of my hand and my knuckles were ripped. I looked as though I’d wandered off the set of a Slasher movie. Blood was spurting like water from a drinking fountain. I was beginning to feel faint.
Wrapping tissues around my hand, I drove as fast as I could to Accident and Emergency, blood spattering on to the steering wheel.
As next of kin, Richard was called. He arrived just as the doctor started to stitch me up. Upset, confused and wanting him to know what he’d driven me to, I let him comfort me.
Holding his soft, familiar hand, pain radiated through me. The last time I had held his hand like this in a hospital room, chemotherapy drugs were being pumped into me.
Now here we were, back in the same hospital barely a year later because I’d smashed my hand through his girlfriend’s glass door. It seemed surreal.
Then, as the curtains swished open and closed around my bed, I started to become aware that a policeman was standing outside.
At first I thought he was there to guard a prisoner. But every time the curtains moved, he seemed to be looking at me. Realisation dawned. He was there to arrest me.
Karen Taylor had reported me to the police and, presumably, Richard had told her where I was.
‘How could you’ I snarled. It was at that minute that every last drop of love for him evaporated.
Back at the police station, after four hours in the cells, I was asked if I would accept a caution because it was a minor offence and I’d never been in trouble with the law before.
I willingly agreed. In that brief moment of madness I had expended every single feeling of rage and jealousy. My marriage was over.
But I still had a long way to go. And, surprisingly, there was only one person who could help me rebuild my shattered life — my 95-year-old father.
Adapted from TAKE ME HOME by Tessa Cunningham, published by Sidgwick & Jackson on June 14 at 12.99. Tessa Cunningham 2012. To order a copy at 10.49 (p&p free), call 0843 382 0000.