“How Can I Break Up With My Paralyzed Boyfriend?”

Tom and I are 35 and 34 years old respectively. We have been together for two and a half years, living together for one and a half of those years. Tom was a great guy and everything was perfect when we started dating, and when he asked me to move in, I felt I was ready. Things started going downhill soon after we moved in. Tom stopped doing the things he used to do; he was getting so comfortable that I felt like we were roommates. Nine months after we moved in together, I was diagnosed with Stage 4B lymphoma. No one saw this coming. Tom never wanted to talk about it although I had given him the option to leave if he wanted to and had told him that I would totally understand. He never said anything except that “it is what it is.” We never talked about the disease, the situation, and the future. I sat him down several times to try talk to him, but nothing gave.

I went through aggressive chemo for six months. Tom never came to any of the chemo sessions with me despite the fact that I had asked him to spare a day off work to come. Tom never lost sleep when I was in pain and needed help. I had swollen feet from neuropathy and would crawl to the toilet while he was deep in his sleep. When I told him the next day, he never asked me to wake him up if I needed help. He never broke a sweat. He never spent a single night at the hospital all the many times that I was hospitalized. He would only come see me for one to three hours. He wasn’t interested in learning about the cancer even when I gave him material to read. I would ask him to massage me sometimes since I had chronic muscle pain, and during the only time he tried I asked him to apply more pressure and he said I was going to make him break his fingers.

Tom and I shared all our bills equally, but I was out of work for four months and he never chipped in. Towards the end of each month, he would always remind me to transfer the rent money to his account. I blew up my savings and sometimes my family sent me funds from overseas. At that time I was bothered by this, but I was more focused on staying strong, keeping the faith, and positivity and fighting the cancer to get better. At the end of the day what mattered to me was that he never left.

I finished chemo at the end of February, and I’m still in recovery but happy to say I am cancer-free now. Almost two months after my finishing chemo, the perfectly healthy and athletic Tom developed an upper back and neck pain for a whole week straight. That same week I was sleeping in the guest bedroom because I was ready to leave him due to the fact that we were having relationship issues, including his cheating on me twice, our lack of communication, and his selfishness. By the end of the week, his pain was getting worse and he developed other symptoms, such as urine retention, spasms, and muscle weakness, so I rushed him to the ER. A few hours later he was paralyzed and still is almost four months later.

It turns out he suffered a spinal cord injury from a mass that was found in his spinal cord. I can’t imagine what he’s going through, but I don’t know what quality sleep is anymore. I have spent so many nights at the hospital bed by his side, and I have missed work numerous times. Tom was discharged from rehab and he continues to be cared for at home. I am his sole caregiver because he has no family in our state. His mom lives in a different state and has been coming to visit and help on and off. I have had to hire private caregivers to help Tom while I’m at work since he is 100% dependent on care. I use a hoyer lift to transfer him in and out of bed. I work twelve-hour shifts, and when I get home, I pick up from where the caregivers left off.

Tom has to be turned every two to four hours every night. By the time I’m done caring for him, it’s midnight and I’m then expected to turn and re-position him until I have to get ready for work at 6 a.m.. I have post-chemo side effects among which is chronic insomnia and chronic fatigue. The doctor put me on sleeping pills, but I cannot take those because I have to be awake to care for Tom. It hurts me that I give 300%, but he never appreciates it. He gets so mean and disrespectful and doesn’t understand that sometimes I need to rest. When I ask him if he can let me try and sleep and reposition him after four hours, he says I need to re-postion him every hour.

Tom doesn’t want to do the exercises the doctors have instructed he do to prevent complications and bed sores, and when I remind him to, he says that I like arguing. His lack of concern has led us to the emergency room several times and all this is affecting my job. I’m afraid it’s going to get worse and I will lose my job. I have no life between my job, school, my numerous doctor appointments, his doctor appointments, caring for him, cooking, cleaning, coordinating his care, etc. The list is endless.

His mom has been in denial since the injury, and every time I have tried to talk to her about the situation she just shuts off. I asked her to come visit and help me so that I can catch up with some sleep on my off days, and she is flying down tomorrow. I have decided that I will ask her to take responsibility of her son and to make arrangements to take him back home. At home he will have more people to care for him and they care share the responsibility.

I believe that Tom is not worth my sacrificing my whole life considering the fact that I was ready to leave him before the injury and that he has always been selfish, was never there for me when I needed him, and my immune system is still very week and the stress and lack of sleep weakens it more. I need help on how to approach his mom and ask her to take responsibility and how to approach him as well after I talk to his mom. I know I will still be there for them, help with the transition and move, and help get them situated. I know I have to do what is best for ME and for him as well. Please advise! Thank you! — Cance-Free and Ready to Move On

Actually, no, you don’t need to “still be there for him” or help him get situated. You’ve done far, far too much already. Why have you invested so much in someone who showed/shows so little care and regard for you? This is something I’d suggest you explore with a good therapist. In the meantime, make a list of all of Tom’s needs and how you care for him and print that list and put it in an envelope and hand it to his mother when she arrives, along with a letter explaining that you are no longer in love with Tom, haven’t been in love with him in over a year and a half, and have realized that you’re over whatever misguided sense of obligation you had to him, especially considering how very little he did for you when you needed him, and also that you worry about your own health (rightfully so!) and have to focus on taking care of yourself. Give Tom a similar letter, along with your key to his home. Have your bags packed before his mom arrives, and have place to stay, and then when she gets there, wish them well and adios on out of there.

This will feel really foreign and weird to you because you are used to being some sort of martyr, but you should not feel the teeniest bit weird about prioritizing your well-being — while recovering from cancer, no less!! — and finally leaving a relationship that broke down a long, long time ago. Make sure you let your support network — your family and close friends — know what you’re about to do so you have some support as you leave this coo-coo alternate universe, re-enter reality, and start a new life for yourself.

And I’m serious about therapy. With the year and a half you’ve had, and the months ahead that you’ll be transitioning out of this shit-show, talking to someone about your feelings will go a long way in making sure you’re in the head space you need to be in when you’re ready to start dating again.


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.


  1. Avatar photo meadowphoenix says:

    tbh, I wouldn’t even write the letter. Girl, your bf didn’t give a fuck you had cancer. Give bf and his mom a set time you’re going to stop providing care, and then get out. His mom will figure it out like you did. I also agree with Wendy that you should get therapy. You’ve gone through something traumatic and then became a caregiver. I don’t think it’s surprising that with one health problem after another you stayed, but I do think you need to readjust your expectations to what you want from a healthy relationship, not the mom role your bf clearly expected you to fill

    1. Hmmm… Seems like karma came around and bit him right in the ass!

  2. Juliecatharine says:

    WWS 100%. Run girl.

  3. LW, you are an awesome person for helping Tom out, but he is no longer your responsibility. I can’t believe how you are able to do it all, school, cancer, Tom… You are your top priority right now. Get in charge.

  4. LW, if I’m reading this right, in addition to not meeting your needs while you were sick, Tom cheated on you while you had cancer? In any normal situation, it’d be so obvious to just say “fuck this guy” and move on. Which, you were going to do.

    But, then Tom became disabled. And now you feel guilty because you know he needs help and you feel resentful because he didn’t help you and he’s not helping you help him, but you’re afraid it makes you a bad person if you leave him. If you want a stranger off the internet’s permission to leave, you have it.

    Wendy’s recommendation of therapy is something you must do. Because we can all tell you that: (1) you’re not married to Tom, you haven’t promised “better or worse” and you don’t “owe” it to him to stay out of guilt; (2) in theory, Tom deserves better than someone who stays with him out of guilt; (3) Tom can hire caregivers and he has his mother to help him; (4) you owe yourself more than staying with someone who treated you poorly out of guilt; and (5) you’re not a bad person for putting yourself and your health ahead of a guy you’re not in love with. But you need a therapist to help you really believe that so that you can heal.

    First, make a therapist appointment and work through your plan with them. Then, make alternate living plans to coincide with when Tom’s mother will be there. Call Tom’s mother before she arrives and tell her when you’re leaving because if she lives out of state, she may need to make arrangements, too. Tell Tom that he knew you were going to leave before his illness, you think he’s stabilized enough to where he has the tools/capability/ability to manage without you, you’ve made arrangements for his mother to help him and wish him the best. Then stick to the plan and when Tom’s mother arrives, point her to the detailed instructions you’ve made for Tom’s care – this is to lessen the need for her to call you about it – then leave immediately. No discussion. No scenes. Just go. If you can, I’d go straight from there to your therapist’s office.

    Good luck, LW.

  5. I misread the first sentence of the last line to read, “I believe that Tom is worth sacrificing my whole life” and nearly had a heart attack.

    I don’t think I’d bother with the letter, tbh.

  6. First of all, LW, congratulations on being cancer-free! That’s amazing.

    But, ye gods, reading that letter was like watching a 50 car pile up right in front of me. My eyes kept widening and my jaw kept dropping with every paragraph. I cannot imagine how lonely and scary it must have been to go through cancer treatments with a “partner” who does nothing to support you and even cheats on you. It sucks for Tom that he is disabled, but seriously you deserve so very much more for all the love and sacrifice you have already given and are obviously willing to give. I echo everyone by saying move out and move on as soon as possible, and a therapist is probably a very good idea. Best wishes to you for a bright future and, someday, finding someone who can appreciate and reciprocate all the love you have to give.

  7. I love how he cheated is mentioned in passing. I guess in the grand scheme of things this was a blip on the radar for the LW, but was while you were fighting your cancer? he is not good people. His mother doesn’t sound like good people. (They both stick their head in the sand when it comes to bad news?? Hmmmm) I second the letter only to see, in black and white, for you how shitty these people are.

  8. Anonymous says:

    LW – I imagine there are two reasons why you are hesitating leaving what is a horrible relationship with a man that treated you poorly when you were at your weakest, cheated on you, and is flat out selfish. The first is that you are a good person and women have been programmed (nature, nurture, or combo) to be caregivers. How many letters have we had on Dear Wendy which feature women facing burn out because they are the sole carers for parents, children, partners, etc even when there are other family members that could and should help out? Also, I imagine a lot of this is about optics. You feel you will be judged by people if you leave him when he is at his lowest – but you cannot do that to yourself, you are still recovering and maintaining a grueling schedule for a man that treats you horribly and refuses to even aid in his care is not worth it. He is not likely to get better and you are setting yourself up to be an unpaid carer for him for years to come. Talk to him and his mother and leave. Get a hotel if you need – just get out.

    1. Anonymous says:

      I just realized that I assumed that the LW was female without any evidence in the letter.

  9. bittergaymark says:

    Yikes! Let this be a lesson, ladies and gentlemen everywhere! Stick with a horrible, selfish awful partner and you risk the chance of them getting striken with some bizarre out of left field FREAK paralysis and then being racked with guilt over the decision to leave them!!
    Yowsa! LW! What a FUCKING NIGHTMARE!
    As everybody else has already said — YOU HAVE NO REASON for feeling guilty! AND YET — I so get it. I WOULD FEEL GUILTY!! As you clearly are…
    That said — sometimes you just have live with that guilt, wrestle with it — and GET OVER IT. It sucks — but REALLY, LW. You have to do what is best for you… And that is breaking up with him.

  10. Monkeysmommy says:

    Fuck Tom. Move out now!!

  11. Stillrunning says:

    There’s so much pain in your letter. Your health and well being is your responsibility, taking care of Tom is not.
    Do whatever you need to do to extricate yourself safely from the situation.
    Writing up what you’ve done so far and instructions to what needs to be done, either by his family or a professional caregiver is fine, but make it clear to his family that you have serious health concerns of your own that you have to take care of and say goodbye.
    There are many people he hasn’t screwed over who can take care of him. Not you, you’re done.

    1. I would also suggest that LW copy her letter to Wendy, AND the response, and give it to boyfriend and mom!

  12. Stillrunning says:

    I second (or fifth?) you having your bags packed and ready to leave when his mom arrives. She’ll want you to stay; you’ve provided excellent and FREE care for him. Go, go, go, don’t linger to help him get settled or I guarantee you’ll get sucked into staying.

  13. theotherbarb says:

    I have a feeling that if she lets his mom know ahead of time that she’s leaving as soon as the mom gets there, why then, mom may decide that it’s just not the right time to make the trip. Given that she raised this selfish pig one might just figure she’s not exactly Mother Teresa material herself. I’d go with just exactly WWS – when she shows up give her the info and beat it out of there.

    1. Stillrunning says:

      Lord yes, mom will be dragging her heels if she thinks the LW is going to leave.

    2. True, which is why LW just has to stick to her guns and if the date arrives just go no matter what.

  14. That is an incredible bad luck! You are not his wife, and it was a bad relationship. Do end it now. Regarding Wendy’s advice, the first letter is necessary. The second letter to the mother, less so: remain brief, focus on your health issues and simply state that there are problems in your relationship since long. Don’t criticise him or complain about him, thit isn’t, in my opinion, the right move now that he is vulnerable. Anyway, if you have complaints to make about him, the way he treated you during your illness, and how he behaved as a boyfriend, it has to be said to him and not to his mother.
    If I were you, I would first prepare my exit out of this relationship. Find your own place: you describe a co-dependency. Then think how Tom would do if you weren’t there. Which solution would he find? He would, for sure. Then, when you are ready, tell him in person that you want to leave, why, always remaining polite, concise, respectful, and resist to any pressure by him to guilt you into staying. His situation is awful. You will feel less guilty if you behave yourself decently. Do end it!

    1. His situation isn’t awful…his situation is KARMA.

      1. I totally agree. Sometimes it’s nice to actually see karma in action. My ex husband used to cheat on his first wife, on me and another long term girlfriend. And now? He’s impotent! LW seems to feel so bad right now but hopefully she can look back someday and thank Karma (or maybe she’s a better person than I am!).

    2. A compassionate person would recognize that it can be both and focus upon the awful part. That isn’t reason for the LW to stay with this guy who was such an awful bf and whom she was already in the process of leaving. There IS a difference between compassion and foolish martyrdom.

  15. Skyblossom says:

    You have no reason to feel guilty. You can walk out the door knowing you went above and beyond what was required of you. Tom showed you how selfish he was when you were sick and so it isn’t surprising that he is every bit as selfish when he is sick.

    I would do as Wendy suggested and have a list of his care requirements and leave it at that. Tell his mom that you can’t continue to take care of him. Tell her that you are still recovering from cancer and that you can’t take care of yourself the way you need to and that you are exhausted and can’t continue. Tell her that your body has reached the point of exhaustion and you know you have to quit. Tell her that you are at the point where you may lose your job and that you have to be able to work.

    I don’t think I’d tell Tom anything more than that you are done, we are over and I’m leaving. You and your mom can arrange your care.

    If you haven’t already broken up do it as soon as you can while his mom is still there. Don’t let either of them guilt you or insist that you can’t leave. If they do just repeat that you are done and you are leaving and they will work it out.

    I’m done.
    I’m leaving.
    You will work it out.

  16. LW —

    Nobody else has touched on this, so let be blunt and just say it. Stage 4 lymphoma is very serious. It is great that you are free of cancer post-chemo, but this is remission, not necessarily a permanent cure. Remission can last a year or it can last 10 years or more. There is no way of knowing. Don’t waste what is left of your life on sacrificing for a very selfish bf who wasn’t there for you when you needed him during your chemo. Don’t let him or his mother guilt you into staying another minute to selflessly serve him. You deserve more than that and he doesn’t deserve your sacrifice. You were preparing to leave him, when he suffered this health catastrophe. You should wish him well, but you really need to leave him. If you ever loved this guy, you stopped loving him before his health issues. MOA.

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