When I was diagnosed with terminal cancer the first thing on my bucket list was to leave my husband

Annabel made an incredibly brave decision (Photo: BBC)

As bucket list wishes go, this was pretty dramatic, required much heart-searching and had to be plotted in secret.

Diagnosed with terminal cancer, Annabel Nnochiri decided it was time to leave her old life behind .

And for her, that meant walking out on her husband of 28 years.

Annabel, 56, whose bone cancer progressed to stage four last year, desperately needed to spread her wings.

But before making her “escape” in secret, she first asked permission from her two children to split from their dad.

Annabel said: “I made a bucket list and the first thing was to leave my husband. I had a good life but just felt completely trapped and wanted to break free.

“Knowing I had a short time to go I knew I couldn’t live the rest of my life just being a housewife.

“I asked my children and they both agreed I would be happier if I went and did my own thing.”

Annabel, from North London, spent six months planning her new life – while her husband had no idea she was using inheritance money to buy a flat.

She had beaten breast cancer in 2010 but two years later, in January 2012, was left devastated when her parents died in a crash.

In March that year she developed a pain in her leg and by June it was so bad she “couldn’t bear it”.

A biopsy revealed a tumour in her hip. She was later given two-and-a-half years to live.

Annabel said: “The breast cancer had metastasised into my bones . I’d talked with others for a long while about ending my marriage.

“But when I was diagnosed as terminal I thought I’ve got two-and-a-half years left and I don’t want to be in this house. I don’t want to be cooking dinner every night... I want to be free!”

Annabel sat down with her then 19-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter and asked their opinion.

“Right at the beginning I told my children what I wanted to do,” says Annabel, a brunette who has a pink streak in her hair.

 “If they had not agreed I wouldn’t have done it, but they both said I would be happier if I left.

“I planned it for six months, buying the flat without telling my husband. When I told him he thought it was just a phase and that I would go back to him.”

But Annabel didn’t go back. And she says she and her ex, who met at university, now have a good relationship.

She adds: “I didn’t leave to be with someone else but I have had a very happy love life since then – and he has found someone else and is happy too.”

Annabel, an art teacher , also threw herself into painting, took up salsa dancing and went travelling.

She goes on: “I used to be anxious, worrying what people thought of me.

 “Now I just don’t care because of the cancer. My children are far happier and we are all closer.

“My daughter says I’m her role model, I’ve learned to be more selfish – but I also help others with cancer.

“When I’m in hospital I always try to reassure people who are nervous. Some are petrified. Someone did that for me and it made such a difference.”

Five years after her initial ­diagnosis Annabel says it has made her a more confident person.

She laughs: “If I hadn’t had the cancer I would have been a dull person. But because of it I’ve become a much braver, naughty older woman.

“I could live a few more years, I do still want to live – for my children, to see my grand- children. I dislike being referred to as a cancer survivor.

“I’m just getting on with it. Living with it. It’s a long journey.

“When I got my terminal diagnosis I was so angry with God that I stopped going to church.

“You just have to get through the anger and grief and accept it. What came eventually was calmness, wisdom and ­spirituality. If you show kindness it will always come back to you.”

Annabel is one of 12 ­courageous Brits who have been filmed for a groundbreaking documentary called A Time to Live by award-making film-maker Sue Bourne.

 

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