A father received a horrifying diagnosis when he went to his GP after water came out of his nose when he was drinking.
Phil Sledden-Houston, who confesses to being a heavy smoker, was told he had a tennis ball-sized tumor that had to be removed from his cheek in a surgery that took more than 15 hours.
The 51-year-old received the heartbreaking news that the strange nasal faux pas was, in fact, a sign that he had advanced cancer and, without surgery, he only had a few months to live.
He was 48 years old when he was forced to undergo invasive surgery, and doctors cut into his face to remove the huge cancerous lump.
The doctors told him that he had to have the surgery or he would die in six months.
To repair his damaged cheek, a surgeon had to remove part of Phil’s hip bone and move it toward his face, leaving him unable to smile, according to the Manchester Evening News.
Middleton’s father, Greater Manchester, who had smoked since he was a teenager, realized something was wrong when he took a sip of water and it squirted out of his nose.
“I started smoking at school when I was around 15 or 16 years old, as everyone smoked back then,” he said. “I never thought about how it was affecting my health as I didn’t smoke much, I only smoked a few a day.
“I kept smoking for years and then in 2018 I was drinking water and some came out of my nose. I knew something was wrong, so I went to get help.
“I was referred to see a specialist at the dental hospital, who told me that I had cancer and that it was serious, and that I urgently needed an MRI and biopsy.
“A week later I was diagnosed with stage 4 mouth cancer (palliative care) and the doctor told me that I had a choice: decide to have surgery within a month or die. He said he might have six months to live and maybe see Christmas. I had to quit smoking immediately.
“I will never forget the surgeon who told me how serious it was, the tumor was in his cheekbone and he thought it had been hidden for four years. It was the size of a tennis ball and had to be removed. It was a massive operation and it took me months to recover.”
A team of surgeons operated on Phil for more than 15 hours. His face was cut in half and his cheekbone, eye and palate were removed. Part of the hip bone was then used to replace the removed part and reconstruct his face.
He was unable to speak or eat properly for six months and was also slightly disfigured due to nerve damage to his face during surgery.
“It looks like I had a little stroke, but I’ve been really lucky as not everyone makes it,” Phil continued.
“The medical team managed to remove the entire tumor, so I didn’t have to undergo chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
“In October 2019 I had a facelift which has given me so much more confidence and now I only have a slight scar. One of the biggest challenges was learning to eat and speak only with the left side of my face, as I don’t have any teeth on the other side. I’ve been in remission for just over three years and I’ve never felt better.”
Since then, Phil has been able to return to his road maintenance job. He says that since he quit smoking he sleeps better, he no longer feels out of breath and has more energy.
He added: “My taste improved and I also started saving money, these were all incentives to quit, but being diagnosed with cancer was definitely my wake up call as I would have continued to smoke.
“I needed the shock of being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer to be stopped, and I urge everyone to try to quit before they end up like me.”
Phil shares his story ahead of World Cancer Day on Friday.
Smoking is directly linked to at least 15 different forms of cancer and causes 15% of all cancer cases each year in the UK (54,300 cases), according to Cancer Research UK.
Dr Matt Evison, Clinical Lead of Greater Manchester’s Make Smoking History tobacco control programme, said: “Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your health and to reduce your risk of developing serious illness.
“I see the harm of smoking every day and the devastation it causes to patients and their families. It damages every organ in the body and causes lung disease, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and at least 15 types of cancer.
Don’t miss out on the latest news from Scotland and beyond – sign up for our daily newsletter here.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.