From Cancer to Infertility: The Many Obstacles that Took a Toll on HGTV's Tarek and Christina El Moussa

A look back at the couple's highs and lows over the years

On Monday, Flip or Flop stars Tarek and Christina El Moussa announced their separation after seven years of marriage.

The split comes about six months after an altercation between the couple occurred that prompted police to visit their California home.

“Like many couples, we have had challenges in our marriage,” the pair told PEOPLE in a statement. “We had an unfortunate misunderstanding about six months ago and the police were called to our house in an abundance of caution. There was no violence and no charges were filed.”

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Indeed, the El Moussas, who rose to fame flipping houses on the hit HGTV series, which has been on air since 2013, have faced their fair share of tough times as a couple. Here’s a look back at some of their trials and tribulations, in their own words.

Tarek’s cancer battle

In 2013, the real estate guru was blindsided by a shocking thyroid cancer diagnosis after a fan emailed producers saying she noticed a lump on his neck, prompting him to have a biopsy.

“I was having a harder time swallowing, and this lump was getting bigger,” Tarek told PEOPLE after his diagnosis. “I actually went to the doctor twice for it, and they said it’s nothing.”

An ultrasound initially showed a 5 percent chance of the lump being cancerous, but when the doctors conducted a biopsy they realized it was cancer, and the lump had to be removed entirely.

“They said they would remove half of it and be done in an hour,” said Tarek. “But it ended up being four hours, it was cancer, and they ended up removing my entire thyroid. When I woke up, my wife was crying and the first thing I asked was, ‘It’s cancer, isn’t it?’ And she said, ‘Yeah.’ ”

Sadly, the cancer had spread to Tarek’s lymph nodes and he had to undergo radioactive iodine therapy, which meant he had to be isolated from his family for their protection.

“It was a nightmare,” he confessed. “They stay in a different bedroom, and I can’t stay with my daughter for more than a few minutes at a time. She wanted to hug me and watch TV every night and give kisses, and we couldn’t do that.”

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Fertility issues

While dealing with Tarek’s cancer diagnosis, the couple also spent about almost two years trying to conceive their second child before announcing they were expecting in April 2015.

“We found out Tarek had cancer, and we asked the doctor if that would affect our chances of having a child,” Christina told PEOPLE at the time. “They said that if you go through radiation, which Tarek had too, then you should not get pregnant from that sperm from six months to a year. So, right away, we did sperm banking and [tried] IVF.”

Conceiving didn’t end up being an easy task: After two failed attempts at IVF — including one resulting in a miscarriage at eight weeks — Christina changed doctors and tried one last time to conceive.

“I had to be super strict,” she said. “I had to do one full week in bed. For 13 weeks after that, I couldn’t go for a walk and couldn’t lift anything over a gallon of milk. We planned it during Christmas break so I wasn’t working. We did everything we could to make sure this one worked.”

Making matters even more difficult was the fact that Tarek was also bedridden after having to undergo unexpected back surgery from a bad golf swing.

“[His recovery] was two months of sheer torture,” Christina admitted.

But the couple made it work, largely by enlisting the help of their daughter Taylor, now 6. “We just had to tell her. She understood. She really wanted a sibling,” said Christina. “So we kept telling her, ‘Mom is really trying to make a baby, and you have to understand that you have to get into the tub yourself and into the car seat,’ and she was actually really good about it.”

The El Moussas welcomed son Brayden James in August 2015, and in November, Tarek told PEOPLE he was feeling positive about his family’s future, despite the “challenge” of the last three years.

“I feel good, but I don’t have the energy I used to have,” he confessed. “The only thing is most days, or like half of the time I feel a little jet-lagged. I’m really tired.”

Being in remission, however, allowed the father of two to take a step back and focus on his family.

“There is always that chance of reoccurrence but every year that goes by the odds of reoccurrence goes down so it’s good,” he said. “I have slowed down quite a bit. Which is actually a good thing because I can actually relax now.”

Flip or Flop seminar drama

Most recently, the El Moussas found themselves at the center of controversy after their flipping courses were deemed allegedly misleading by buyers.

According to about a dozen people interviewed by the Associated Press, the free events take place in hotel ballrooms where instructors inform attendees that if they pay to enroll in three-day courses, they’ll learn how the star couple flips homes, as well as gain access to investors who will give them cash to buy properties (even if they have low credit scores or a weak job history) in order to earn back their money quickly.

According to the buyers, the promises offered by instructors during the seminars didn’t pan out and while class leaders offered some instruction, a lot of time was allegedly spent pushing them to buy more classes. Some also alleged that getting refunds for the sessions was difficult.

Buyers were also disappointed to see that the El Moussas were not in attendance for the classes, instead appearing in a prerecorded video to inform attendees that they were busy working and filming their show.

The El Moussas have not publicly addressed the criticism, and their lawyer told the Associated Press that the couple didn’t have time to be interviewed for the story.

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