I needed the shock of being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer to stop, and I urge everyone to give quitting a go.
Phil Sledden-Houston, 51, from Middleton in Greater Manchester, quit smoking in April 2018 after being diagnosed with Stage 4 mouth cancer. A team of surgeons operated on Phil for over 15 hours using the Weber-Ferguson approach, which is where they effectively cut his face in half, removed his cheek bone, eye and palate. Part of his hip bone was then used to replace the removed part and reconstruct his face.
“I started smoking at school back in 1985, when I was around 15 or 16 as everyone smoked back them. Initially, I was a casual smoker and only smoke 1 or 2 cigarettes a day. I continued smoking for years but was only a light smoker, and never smoked more than eight cigarettes a day.
“20 years ago I was in a serious car accident and my teeth were damaged as a result. I remember being told that my teeth might have to be replaced, but I didn’t think anything of it at the time. However, over the years I had a series of dental problems and kept getting recurring abscesses which would disappear after a course of antibiotics. They became more frequent and one day I developed a weird sensation in my mouth, but just though it was the abscess oozing.
“Then in early 2018, I was drinking water and some of it came out of my nose. I knew something wasn’t right, so I went to see my dentist. I was referred to see a specialist at the dental hospital, who told me I had cancer and that it was serious and that I needed to have an urgent MRI scan and biopsy. A week later I was told I had Stage 4 (palliative care) mouth cancer and the doctor told me I had a choice – to decide to have the operation within a month or die. He said I could have six months to live and maybe see Christmas. I had to quit smoking immediately.
“I’ll never forgot the surgeon telling me how serious it was, the tumour was in my cheek bone, and he thought it had been hidden for four years. Apparently, the tumour was the size of a tennis ball and it had to be removed. I was told my only option was for them to use the Weber-Ferguson approach, which is a unique way of them being able to access the orbit of my face. It was a massive operation, and it took me months to recover.”
The dad of two couldn’t talk or eat properly for six months, he lost a lot of weight and also had to spend time in a wheelchair to recover whilst in hospital. It took Phil months to be able to walk due to having part of his hip bone removed. He was also left slightly disfigured as the nerves in his face were damaged during surgery.
“It looks like I’ve had tiny stroke, but I have been incredibly lucky as not everyone makes it through. The medical team manged to remove the entire tumour, so I didn’t have to have chemotherapy or radiotherapy. In October 2019, I had a face lift which has given me much more confidence and I only a faint scar now. One of the biggest challenges was learning to eat and talk just using my left-hand side of my face, as I have no teeth on the other side.
“I’ve now been in remission for three years and I have never felt better. I quit smoking immediately after getting my diagnosis and I went cold turkey. Once I recovered from my operation and returned to work doing highways maintenance, I noticed the other benefits of quitting. I had more energy, I was no longer out of breath and had better quality sleep. My taste improved and I also started to save money, all of these were incentives to stop smoking but being diagnosed with cancer was definitely my wake-up call as I would have continued smoking. I needed the shock of being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer to stop, and I urge everyone to give quitting a go before you end up like me.”
Visit Local Services to find details of stop smoking services and support across all 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester or call the NHS Stop Smoking helpline free on 0300 123 1044