real life

'I was told I was going to die. The first thing I did was leave my husband.'

When Annabel Nnochiri was told she had only two-and-a-half years to live, she did what many terminally sick people do: create a bucket list.

But at the top of the North London mother’s list was a goal not so common.

Annabel aspired to leave her husband of 28 years.

“I had a good life but just felt completely trapped and wanted to break free,” the 56-year-old, who was diagnosed with stage four cancer in 2012, told BBC.

After telling her plans to her son, 19, and daughter, 16, the mum-of-two secretly began preparing her new life; she put inheritance money left behind by her parents, who died in a car crash months prior, towards a new flat, and waited half a year to share any of this with her husband.

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

“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!”

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Five years on, and one of 12 people filmed for a British documentary focused on terminal patients called A Time to Live, the art teacher has no regrets about how she’s approached death. Not only has she remained good friends with her ex-husband, she’s since experienced “a very happy love life” with another man.

“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,” she said.

“I could live a few more years, I do still want to live – for my children, to see my grandchildren. I dislike being referred to as a cancer survivor. I’m just getting on with it. Living with it. It’s a long journey.”