'I had no idea I had a tumour until it burst in the middle of my daughters' birthday celebrations'

Andrew Phillips and his daughters Ava, Holly and Abbie
-Credit: (Image: No credit)


A dad has said he is ‘unbelievably lucky’ after the unknown tumour inside him burst in the middle of his daughters' birthday celebrations.

Andrew Phillips, 48, was visiting Gulliver's World with his family to celebrate the birthdays of nine-year-old twins Holly and Abbie in December 2019 when he received the "warning shot" that saved his life.

After feeling unwell and passing blood in their hotel bathroom, he visited his GP and was later diagnosed with a massive internal bleed,the Livepool Echo reports.

He had been suffering from a gastrointestinal stromal tumour (GIST), a rare type of cancer that develops in the digestive system. If caught early, the cancer has a high survival rate - however, most people in the early stages of GIST do not have any symptoms, meaning there is a risk the cancer could spread throughout the body before it is discovered.

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Andrew, from West Derby, said: "The weird thing is these tumours very rarely rupture, so it was actually unbelievably lucky it happened. It was almost a gift from the gods. It was golf ball-sized when it ruptured, and that gave me the warning I needed to get checked out, and so they found it fairly early."

"My mum died of cancer at a similar age in 1995, which devastated us as a family. She was treated, but up until the year 2000 this disease wasn't really understood. Fast-forward to my illness at pretty much the same age she was when she died, I knew I had to get to the bottom of it, and thankfully I did."

Andrew Phillips training for his 150km bike ride for GIST Cancer UK
Andrew Phillips training for his 150km bike ride for GIST Cancer UK -Credit:No credit

Andrew needed a five-and-a-half hour operation to remove two thirds of his stomach on January 27 2020. He left the Royal Liverpool Hospital six days later - just as the first Covid-19 patients were coming in before lockdown.

He said: "My life was hanging in the balance. After the operation I couldn't eat for months. I was on a liquid diet, and it was a very slow process of getting fit and healthy again. It took the best part of a year to feel normal again. It was a tough 18 months, but I was just relieved to be alive."

"To this day I'm not fully recovered because of the extent of the surgery, but I'd say I'm about 85% there. I'm a stone lighter than I was, but I'll never regain that weight now because I more or less had a gastric bypass. My stomach is a lot smaller. I'm back to around 50% capacity now and I can eat a full meal again. I get full very easily but it's a small price to pay."

"I was very lucky for the mere fact I had the warning shot and acted on it straight away."

Andrew is now planning on cycling 150km from the famous Liver Building to Chester, and then on to the Liverpool Arms pub in Conwy, North Wales, to raise money for GIST Cancer UK. Hoping to raise £2,000 for the charity, his online fundraiser has already brought in more than £2,500 for patients suffering from PAWS-GIST, an uncommon subgroups of GIST which can be passed down genetically.

Andrew explained: "During Covid-19 I contacted the PAWS GIST clinic which I discovered while searching for information online. They invited me down to Cambridge for their first clinic post-lockdown which was October 2021. They offered me genetic testing and 12 months later the team contacted me and informed me that I had a super rare gene mutation (SDHB) that was more than likely inherited from my mum. The SDHB deficient gene puts you at a higher risk of developing GIST and renal tumours, which my Mum unfortunately died from."

This gave Andrew's family the heads-up they needed to get tested for the genetic mutation associated with the disease. Twins Holly and Abbie tested negative - but oldest daughter Ava, 16, tested positive, meaning she will need to be monitored with blood tests and scans throughout her life.

Andrew said: "The rare wild type GIST that I had is immune to any drug treatment and currently can only be treated by early detection and surgery. That's why it's so important to raise money to help fund research and drug trials that will hopefully one day lead to better treatment options and ultimately a cure. As you know rare cancers don't get the funding and exposure that the more common cancers do, making it much more difficult to fund research."

"The specialists and volunteers who all contribute and give their time to running this charity and clinic are very special people indeed. Some have been personally touched by this disease whilst medical professionals give their time and expertise to the cause. Without this continued support there would be no hope."