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Tamra Judge Reveals Her Ex-Husband Simon Barney’s Cancer Battle Contributed To Her RHOC Exit!

After Simon Barney announced that the was diagnosed with stage three throat cancer, Tamra Judge reveals that her leaving the Real Housewives of Orange County was prompted by her ex-husband's cancer diagnosis.

“It made me reevaluate my life,” she told PEOPLE. “Simon had told me about his health back in November and I was completely destroyed. I was a mess! This is the father of my children. Any ill will between the two us just vanished. My first thought was, ‘I don’t want to take my kids to their dad’s funeral.’ And my second was, ‘I don’t want to go back to the show.’ ”

“The reality of it is, after Eddie’s heart condition and now Simon with cancer, it’s just very hard for me to want to go on a show where people are screaming and yelling and arguing about things that don’t even matter,” Tamra explains. “They’ve taught me that life is precious, and you don’t get that time back.”

“I thought, I’ll be the first Housewife to go and be like, ‘This is my last year, I won’t be back.’ Because I was really done,” Tamra recalls. “But I ran it by a few people close to me who said, ‘Don’t do that right now because you’re emotional and you don’t know how you’re going to be feeling in a few months.’ So I agreed, I might have just been reacting too quickly.”

“You can tell my behavior at the reunion was very subdued,” Tamra recalls. “I didn’t want to fight with anybody. My mind was not there at all. I hadn’t told production about Simon, so they didn’t fully understand what was wrong with me. But I told [costar Shannon Beador], ‘I feel like this is my last season.’ In my gut, I knew I wouldn’t come back.”

Tamra also recalls when a fan asked her about her current relationship with Simon during BravoCon 2019. “I was a wreck,” Tamra says, reflecting on that moment. “Everyone knew something was going on with me, but I wasn’t telling anyone because Simon had asked me not to. I just wanted to get away from the show and get away from the press and get home to my family.”

She and Barney had been getting along — a first, after their 13-year marriage ended in 2011. Simon's health battle even helped repair the fractures in their family. “I’ve grown close with his fiancée [Catushia Ienni]. It makes me happy Simon has someone like her who can take care of him from day to day. And we’re all our talking with our kids again, after the estrangement. We’ve all rallied together to be there for Simon and make sure he has the support he needs,” Tamra says.

In January, RHOC producers reached out to Judge about Season 15. “They wanted to know what I’d be up to, and knowing Simon didn’t want me to talk about it, I told them I had a lot going on in my life that I wouldn’t be able to film,” Tamra recalls. “I said to them that it was going to be hard for me to film all the time, and that I didn’t know how much of a commitment I could put into filming. Because in my mind, I knew there was going to be a phone call during filming where someone needed me — where Simon was in the hospital, or one of my kids were upset — and I’d need to handle all that stuff, away from the cameras.”

Judge the explains why she didn't tell production that she didn’t want to return. “I wanted to, but this was my job for the past 12 years. I was helping support my family with that income. And God forbid, if Simon doesn’t make it? I just wasn’t strong enough to just walk away.”

“It was very difficult for me,” she told PEOPLE. “For three weeks, I was a f—ing mess. I cried every single day. And then they called and scheduled a production meeting for a few weeks before filming, and I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m going to be able to go back to this show and keep this a secret. There’s no way I could just film as if nothing’s wrong.’ So I just prayed and prayed and prayed for divine intervention. I was like, ‘God, please make this decision for me.’ ”

Tamra says she got a call from production telling her that the network wanted her back, but only for a limited role. She was offered three episodes to wrap up her storyline and move on. But she turned down the offer.

“Those three episodes wouldn’t make any sense to me because I am very much a person who is very honest on the show,” Tamra says. “At the time, Simon did not want to come forward with it, so I could not talk about it. It didn’t make any sense for me to be like, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve been very busy now, gotta go,’ because it would be a lie. I just knew there would be no way to get around it. I couldn’t go back and be myself. I couldn’t be honest. I couldn’t be real.”

Tamra says she’s inspired by Simon’s positive outlook. “I like that he’s being positive, and he’s being super positive around the kids. I think he has a great outlook, and most people who beat cancer have a similar outlook, so I see that,” she says. “But he had said to me when I first saw him, ‘If it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go.’ And that just broke my heart. Like, no, that’s not happening. We’re going to get through this.”

Tamra claims that she is not focused on a potential RHOC return. “Andy has said he thinks I’ll be back one day, but right now, I can’t even think about that,” she adds. “I’m thankful for my time on Bravo, I really am. I’ve loved doing the show and love the people there. But I just want to be with my family. Nothing else matters.”

Photo Credit: Bravo, Simon Barney via PEOPLE