Simon Barney and Tamra Judge Say His Cancer Diagnosis Brought Their Fractured Family Together

"It's kind of like a new beginning for me and my family," Tamra Judge's ex-husband Simon Barney tells PEOPLE

If there’s one silver lining to Simon Barney’s cancer diagnosis, it’s that the tough news has united his fractured family — including his ex-wife Tamra Judge.

PEOPLE exclusively broke the story on Tuesday that Barney, 55, is currently undergoing treatment for stage 3 throat cancer.

“It’s kind of like a new beginning for me and my family,” says Barney, who shares son Spencer, 19, and daughters Sidney, 21, and Sophia, 14, with Judge. “It’s really brought everyone closer together.”

That statement might be surprising to fans of The Real Housewives of Orange County, who have been keenly aware of longstanding tensions within the family of five.

Judge, 52, and Barney, 55, were married from 1998 until 2011, their contentious divorce sparking an ugly custody battle. In the years that followed, Judge and her daughter, Sidney, stopped communicating entirely, as did Barney and his son, Spencer.

Though attempts at reconciliation were made in the past, Barney’s cancer scare has changed everyone’s perspective. All now speaking again, they both say. Barney has also seen an increase in contact with Ryan Vieth, 34, Judge’s son from a previous relationship.

“The kids were split after the divorce and chose sides but, at the end of the day, none of that matters,” Judge says. “All we have to do is rally together to make it through this.”

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Barney told Judge about his diagnosis back in November, the two meeting at a local Starbucks.

“The kids were going to see me getting treatment, and I wanted her to kind of know what’s going on,” Barney explains.

Hearing what he was going through broke Judge, she says.

“Honestly, I’ve never seen him like that. He told me the news and we both literally started crying. I just couldn’t believe it,” she recalls. “My first thought was, ‘I don’t want to take my kids to their dad’s funeral,’ and immediately, any ill feelings between the two of us just vanished.”

That put the two on the path they’re on now. “When I told Tamra, she said she cried for like, two or three days,” Barney says. “Things changed with our relationship from there, in a good way. We’re getting along in ways we haven’t in years.”

“Our conversations now are so different than they were before,” adds Judge. “Before there was always such hate behind them. Not that we would always say nasty things towards one another, but we both came from a place of hate. And now we’re coming from a place of concern. It just put everything in perspective and helped us remember of that other s— means anything.”

Tamra Judge/Instagram

Both are now co-parenting in ways they haven’t in years.

“We’re just talking more, especially with our youngest one, to make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to how to take her through this situation. I’ll say, ‘What do you think of this? I tell her this,’ and Tamra will go, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea, I’ll tell her that too.’ We never would have done that three, four years ago,” he says.

They also took their kids to therapy, Judge says, to talk through how to emotionally handle the ups and downs that come with a cancer battle.

“We wanted to find a way to get them through this the best way possible,” Judge shares. “We were making sure that our kids are taken care of.”

Each child has handled the news differently.

Sophia, the more reserved of the three, has been supportive, Barney says, but mostly “doesn’t want to talk about it” and “doesn’t want to see me sick.”

Sidney, on the other hand, has been checking in a lot. But Barney is “really protecting her” while she’s away at school, Judge says, “making sure she doesn’t get distracted.”

“She said, ‘Do you want me to get out of school and come home and help you?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely not! You’re staying in school. That’s not going to happen,’ ” Barney remembers.

Spencer, of the three, took the longest to reach out to Barney. “He wanted to know specifics first, he’s more an old soul,” Judge says. “So he wanted to know where he’s going to be treated, who his doctor is. He’s just very clinical about it.”

“He finally reached out to me the other day and just said, ‘Sorry, Dad. I just had to get a hold of it,’ ” Barney says. “It’s good because, I haven’t really talked to him in a while. But we’re getting there now.”

Simon Barney and Catushia Ienni
Courtesy of Simon Barney

Judge has also bonded with Barney’s fiancée of nine years, Catushia Ienni.

The two first got together so that Judge could learn more about Barney’s health without inundating him with questions. Their conversation was so good, they stayed in contact, and have been communicating daily.

“Tamra’s become close with my fiancée,” says Barney. “They text each other almost every day, which at first I was very uneasy. Like, ‘Okay, what are they saying? Is she telling her to get rid of me?’ But they’re really both just taking care of me.”

“It’s funny, because now Tamra’s concerned about Catushia, making sure she’s getting enough sleep, that she’s not too stressed out,” Barney adds. “Catushia has been such a great support to me throughout all of this. And the other day, Tamra brought me soup from a restaurant to see if I could eat — because it’s very hard to find anything to eat — and she had soup for Catushia too.”

“I’m just so grateful he has her by his side,” Judge says, of Ienni. “I told her, ‘Thank God you’re here. I know we’ve had our differences, but I just want you to know I’m here for you too.’ ”

Simon Barney
Courtesy of Simon Barney

All in all, the fact that everyone has come together as a unit has been good for Barney.

“That’s what I’ve always wanted,” he continues. “My fiancée, the same thing, she’s always wanted that with my ex-wife, for the kids. The kids would prefer it if we all got along. And they see that now, and it’s had such a powerful effect.”

And as he fights the disease, he says the journey thus far has taught him a valuable lesson.

“Things always happen for a reason, so when I was diagnosed, the first thing I asked myself was, ‘Why is this happening? What is it you’re doing wrong,’ ” Barney says. “And I took a good look at myself and my life and I realized, I was working 12-hour days, stressing about everybody, and never really doing stuff for me. So now, I’m focusing on the things that bring me joy, like my family.”

“People don’t usually change the way they are, but when you experience an emotional jolt like cancer, you make the shift pretty quick,” he says.

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