real life

'My husband was told he had 5 years to live. So I left him.'

The morning my husband was told he was going to die was the morning I knew I had to leave him. It was the news that broke me.

We hadn’t had sex for a year. We never touched each other. We were like flatmates who barely tolerated each other’s presence. At 33, I felt like a young woman, trapped in a loveless marriage.

By the morning my husband was told he was going to die, our son was two years old; and he was the only reason we were still together.

Watch: People confess to the moment they knew their relationship was over. Post continues after video. 

Video by MMC

It was a morning that began like any other. I had been up with our son since 5am, after sleeping together in the master bedroom. My husband woke up at 8am, after sleeping in the guest bedroom, and went straight out for a cigarette.

Yes, I knew he was a three-decade smoker when I married him, five years before. Yes, it was a problem between us. But my biggest mistake was believing him when he promised me, so many times, that he’d quit.

The thing is, he didn’t think he needed to. He used to describe himself as a “medical miracle”, because, by middle-age, he hadn’t succumbed to any of the dangers of smoking.

That changed the morning he was told he was going to die.

The appointment with the physician was at 11:15am, and we arrived at 11:30, because he’d needed cigarettes on the way. I literally took my son inside and checked in at the reception desk as my husband had ‘one last one’ before coming in for his appointment about why he was coughing up blood.

I was too forgiving. I was foolish. I discovered just how much, when the doctor told us what was wrong.

“You have second stage emphysema,” he said.

“There are four stages, and with your long history of smoking, you’ll go through them fast.”

My husband shrugged.

“Oh well, if it’s the end, I might as well keep smoking,” he joked.

The doctor didn’t even smile.

“You have a young child and a young wife,” he said.

“They will watch you die within five years. But it won’t be a quick death; it will be painful and slow.


“You’ll soon be on an oxygen tank. There could be loss of circulation to your limbs. And then you’ll probably need a tracheostomy.

“This is on top of the risk of any other effects of smoking that haven’t yet transpired, such as heart disease. But if you stop smoking now, and let me treat you, we can slow things down a lot.”

I looked at my husband, and I knew he wasn’t listening. He had only been forced there after I dragged him to the GP for his persistent cough. I could feel his resentment to me radiating out of his body.

This was my fault. He was getting this news only because I made him hear it.

I used to love my husband so very much. But that wasn’t even something I thought of in that appointment.

How do you know if your relationship is over? Host Many Nolan is joined by counsellor Melissa Ferrari to talk about the difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one. Post continues after podcast. 

As a mother, I knew in that moment I had to save my son. I was not going to have him growing up, watching me nurse his dad – who chose not to do a goddamn thing to help himself – deteriorating in front of him.

This child, the only good thing in my marriage, didn’t deserve that life. And yes, to be honest, I was also saving myself.

Call me a selfish b*tch, but I had no intention of looking after a man who didn’t care enough about us to even occasionally wake up early for his son, let alone quit smoking so he could be around longer.

Yes, call me selfish, but on the morning my husband was told he was going to die, I firmly believed he’d been incredibly selfish, too. It took me another few months – and horrible arguments – to leave, but eventually, I did.

The doctor was wrong about one thing; a decade later, and my ex-husband is still alive. Well, alive enough to still smoke, but not really in any other way.

He’s had a major organ transplant, he can barely walk, he can’t work, and he is on an oxygen tank most of the time. I know this because my son, who visits him, tells me.

And with each report of another failed body part, I think, thank God we left. Thank God my son doesn’t have to see that every day of his life. Thank God that is not how he will remember his home – me picking up tissues filled with mucousy bloody, the grim sight of the oxygen tank in even happy moments, re-bandaging gangrened feet – during his childhood.

My ex-husband got a girlfriend almost as soon as I left, and she is the one doing those things for him. I feel sorry for her, and yes, I do feel sorry for him, because the end is very near.

But most of all, I feel sorry for my son, whose father had the chance to give them more years together, and chose not to.

The author of this post is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. The featured image is a stock photo.

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