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Issue 685

03/27/2014 at 4:02pm

Fiona FinnFiona Finn: An Ordinary Housewife
with an Extraordinary Story

We are a world fixated on appearances and physical trappings. When author Fiona Finn walks into a room - attractive blonde, 5’10” tall with legs up to here - the assumption might be that she has it all. ‘What a lucky woman’, one might think. Think again. Fiona is a cancer survivor, and in her latest book ‘Raw - One Woman’s Journey Through Love, Loss and Cancer’, Finn shares intimate, funny and devastating stories that she hopes will help other women who might find themselves in similar dire straits.

Fiona had it all - the love of her life, her three children, a successful real estate business, the house, the cars, private school for the kids. "My ex and I had built our business with his mom. ‘Spouses Selling Houses’ was our tagline. Our name was on benches and billboards everywhere. I became the broker, and our company became the #1 independent office in all of Fort Myers. We did millions and millions of dollars of business. It was like the Brady Bunch - my ex, his mother, his cousin, his aunt, my sister, my mother, my brother, my aunt, my cousin, my sister-in-law…. it was crazy. At the height of it all, it was wonderful to give everyone opportunities. It was great to see everyone enjoying success.” Finn had been a teacher when she met her husband, a single mom with two young sons, Ryan and Connor. But her ex wanted her to go into real estate with him. "Of course my ex was happy because he was getting all those ‘things’ he needed - money, possessions. I was building an empire, but I was building his dream. As long as it was for the team, I felt very empowered to help build this dream.”

But late in 2009 Fiona took herself to the doctor for tests after 14 months of ignoring symptoms, and she heard the words everyone dreads, ‘You have cancer’. The colon cancer was in stage 3. "It didn’t run in my family, and I had no prior history or health issues. I had been bleeding for 14 months and I self-diagnosed the problem as hemorrhoids.”

Five and a half months into her long battle, weak, vulnerable and so very sick, Fiona was hit with another blow. Her husband of ten years walked out on her on Father’s Day, 2010. He moved in with his mother, a condo two floors up from the one he and Fiona had with their kids. "I was on my knees, I was vomiting. I didn’t have the strength to get from one place to another, and he left me. My son would call him for help, and he wouldn’t come down.” Her mother-in-law would yell at her that her husband was exhausted and not sleeping well. "I’m not saying my husband didn’t have a difficult road with me, he was not there for me.”

"When my family first heard that he wasn’t helping me and wasn’t taking me to chemotherapy, many of them offered to help. They are all working people, but they rearranged their schedules to get me to chemo. But then, the ex would show up. "It was the most bizarre thing. They would tell him they didn’t understand - that they thought he needed a break - but there he would be.” Fiona spent a lot of time trying to understand what was happening with her husband. "I think he showed up to impress them rather than to help me.”

When her dream started to unravel, Fiona spent a lot of time reading about her illness and she discovered that, in two separate studies that were done in 2001 and 2009 respectively, when women are diagnosed with cancer, twenty-one percent of their husbands leave them within six months of the diagnosis. If it is the husband diagnosed, only three percent of their wives will leave.

Fiona says her marriage had had problems already, before her diagnosis, which doubled the chances that her husband would leave, according to the study done. "At my lowest moment, he turned and ran and shut me and the children off. When I went back for my second round of chemo, the doctor told me about the 21%, and I asked why I hadn’t been told about it before. I mean, I was told I was going to see the oncologist, the radiologist - why not also a marriage counselor? They could let you know those things ahead of time. I don’t think it would have saved my marriage, but the knowledge would have been helpful to me. I wouldn’t have had that desperate feeling, that clinging. I would have known that it could happen. Knowledge is power, and that’s why I want to get the word out. That’s my cause because so many women don’t know it. I think it’s a dirty little secret that needs to be shared.”

Not long after Fiona’s ex filed for divorce, a benefit was organized for her at The Shine Hair Salon by its owner and her dear friend Ia Divens and her sister Deirdre Hanley. "The turnout for my benefit was overwhelming. If it weren’t for those women and the people who came and their charity, I don’t know how I would have made it for those few months. I had nothing.”


Though born in the United States, Fiona’s family lived in Ireland and that is where she grew up.

"My parents were both from Ireland. Each had been sent by their families to America, to relatives there, to make a better life. They met in the US, and were married when they were 19 years old. They had three children, then moved back to Ireland and had three more, and then returned to the US. I am second of six.” One brother lives in Ireland with his wife and children, another in England with his wife and children. "My youngest brother, Patrick Burke, has always been my parents’ claim to fame. He was an NBA player for the Orlando Magic, and the Phoenix Suns. He is the first Irish born NBA player in the world.”

There is a whole chapter in ‘Raw’ about her Irish Catholic family. ”I rebelled against going to church; it felt very regimented, although I did enjoy some of the rituals like marriage, first communion, the family gatherings on holidays. I didn’t think too much about God.”

But Fiona says when she discovered she was pregnant with her first child, she prayed desperately to God, begging Him to let her live long enough to see her first born reach adulthood. "I begged Him ‘please let me live until my son turns 21, then do what You want’. Eerily, ironically, she was diagnosed the year her son was to turn 21. She was sure she would die of the colon cancer, which she thought was the trade-off she had bargained for those many years ago. She was getting well when she got very sick again toward the end of that year, and believed bone cancer was going to kill her; that God was going to hold her to her pact with Him. "I begged with God again, ‘Please don’t take me now. I didn’t know I was going to have more children. Please let me live for them.’ " And then the doctors revised the diagnosis of the second illness from bone cancer to a systemic infection, which they believed she would recover from. He answered her prayers again. But within weeks of the good news, her ex left, "and I knew that that was the trade off. Even though I was mad, heartbroken and devastated for a long time, I know He took the worst thing in our lives from us - my ex. He was the poison ivy in our garden, he was choking the life out of us.”


Fiona has written three other books - ‘Barbie, A Parody’ (2011), ‘Cartoons, A Parody’ (2011) and ‘Pennies From Heaven - You Make Money, Money Doesn’t Make You’ (2012). She tells us a little bit about the premise for each of them. "The first two were cartoon-style parody books, and helped me heal my inner child. When I was a child, I aspired to be a housewife. I played with Barbie dolls. I wanted to be Barbie; I wanted to marry Ken; I wanted to have kids. I wanted all of that and I got all of that. I got the whole surface life. I had everything, everything I had ever wanted - the house, the cars, the business, the money, the vacations…” The second book, inspired by her nieces and nephews squabbling one day, helped her heal her inner child. "It was like telling myself ‘I’m sorry I didn’t live up to your dreams, but let’s start over.’ It always makes me smile when I see an adult swinging on a swing or playing a game with their children, because I know they are getting in touch with their inner child.” The third book follows Fiona’s process as she learned how to live without all the trappings she and her children had been accustomed to. "I had to learn that without money, I still have value and my children have value. I am no different, at the end of the day, than the wealthiest person on this planet. We’re all leaving with nothing. I think we all need to learn the intrinsic value of ourselves. ‘Pennies’ is a spiritual self help book and I felt really good about that one.”

"Twenty years ago I told myself I would write a book. I’ve never taken a writing class, other than business writing. I was always business oriented. I’m smart. I’m aggressive. When I want to do something, I move forward. I was successful in real estate. But I have taken several steps away from that business, and taken a few step forward in writing.”

‘Raw’ is Fiona’s fourth book, and has taken about 3 years from start to publication. It isn’t just about cancer, or even her ex husband. "But,” Fiona tells us, "the four chapters about him, the stories about him, are what caused the book to be written, and I am grateful for that. It made me live a dream - to write this book.”

‘Raw - One Woman’s Journey Through Love, Loss and Cancer’ will be available on Amazon in a few days, and on Kindle in a few weeks. "I am doing a book signing on April 5th from 1 - 2 PM at Barnes and Noble in Fort Myers. For every book sold at that event, I am going to give a little to the Cancer Society. It makes me feel good to give back.” And on Tuesday, April 15th, Fiona will be speaking about her book at the Fort Myers Beach Library at 10:30 AM.

For Fiona Finn, things have radically changed in her life and she hopes people will read her story and maybe get help for themselves through it. " All I want

is to open up good conversations and empower other women.”

Jo List