Dad who battled breast cancer becomes a Latin dancer and model

Single father, 48, who was diagnosed with breast cancer after finding a lump when his daughter nudged him during playtime reveals it’s changed his life for the better and even landed him modelling jobs

  • Phil Alderson, 48, from Merseyside, found lump playing with daughter Evie, ten
  • Two weeks later, in the summer of 2016, he was diagnosed with breast cancer 
  • Phil was given the all clear two months later after operation to remove his nipple

A dad who battled breast cancer in his 40s has revealed how the experience led him to take up Latin dancing, modelling and charity work to help the lonely.

T-shirt designer and illustrator Phil Alderson, 48, was alerted to a lump behind his left nipple, after a nudge from his daughter, Evie, ten, as they played together during the summer holidays in 2016 caused him discomfort.

Just two weeks later, Phil, of The Wirral, Merseyside, became one of only 350 men in the UK to be diagnosed with breast cancer each year – compared to 55,000 woman – according to Cancer Research UK.

Experiencing two whirlwind months, in which he was diagnosed, given a mastectomy and then the all clear, he felt ‘lucky to be alive,’ adding: ‘My diagnosis put things into perspective.

Phil Alderson, 48, was alerted to a lump behind his left nipple, after his daughter Evie, ten, gave him a playful nudge in the summer of 2016

‘I realised life is relatively short, so I started saying ‘yes’ more and pushed myself out of my comfort zone.

‘”Take action and do not worry about the outcome,” is an excellent mantra to live by.’

Phil is also campaigning with celebrities including Calum Best, for breast cancer charity Future Dreams, to raise awareness of the disease and get people to donate.

He said: ‘The biggest reaction I get when people hear I’ve had breast cancer is, “I didn’t realise men could get it”. Ninety nine per cent of people I speak to say that.

‘The reason I speak out is to try and help others. If having a conversation about it can help save a man or women’s life, it’s worth it. I’m not ashamed to talk about it.’

Phil wears pink nail varnish for the Future Dreams campaign, hoped to to try and open up the conversation about breast cancer

Phil, who is separated from Evie’s mum, found his lump after his daughter nudged him as they played together on a Sunday morning.

He said: ‘Evie elbowed me in the chest while playing and it felt weird. I then discovered a tiny pea sized lump behind my left nipple.

‘I’m quite pro-active and good at seeing the doctor and getting things checked, so the next day I made an appointment, and the GP referred me for breast screening.

‘I wasn’t worried. There was no mention of what it might be and breast cancer didn’t cross my mind. I wasn’t self-conscious about going to a breast screening unit either, I had no hang ups about it.

Phil with his mastectomy scar following the operation to remove the cancerous tissue

Phil in hospital after his operation. He was given his own room but was invited to join a group of women for a cup of tea, who he said were ‘fantastic, strong women’ also fighting breast cancer

‘I just thought, “Let’s get it checked out and go from there”.’

Two weeks later Phil, who had no history of breast cancer in his family, had an appointment at the Wirral’s Clatterbridge Hospital, where he was given a ‘full service’ – including a physical examination, mammogram, ultrasound and a biopsy.

He recalled: ‘The consultant told me I would have to wait two weeks for the results, but they thought it was cancer.

‘It was a bit how it is portrayed in a television advert, when you see someone going into a weird state. I remember focusing on the date on this piece of paper they had given me, everything else fazed out.

Phil has been encouraged to follow conventional modelling, as well as modelling in campaigns that bring awareness to the threat of breast cancer in men

‘They introduced me to a Macmillan cancer nurse, who took me for a cup of tea and we chatted for an hour.

‘I remember thinking, ‘The NHS know what they are doing. If I follow what they say it will be okay.’

‘It felt more real when I had to tell people, like my partner at the time and my family. They were in shock.

‘Thankfully, Evie kept my mind off it. She was only six then and spent most of the summer playing, so she kept me in a positive state and I couldn’t dwell on it.’

The biopsy confirmed that Phil had stage two breast cancer and he was booked in to have a mastectomy.

Phil on the Future Dreams shoot, he said that despite being one of only 350 men in the UK diagnosed with breast cancer each year he felt supported

He continued: ‘The fact I had an early diagnosis changed everything for me.

‘Straight away there was a plan in place and it felt like everything was in hand. I was really fortunate.’

He had the lump and nipple removed, a mastectomy and the sentinel node in his armpit – the first node that fluid drains to from the breast into the armpit and, therefore, the first lymph node the cancer could spread to – taken away.

His surgery at the beginning of September 2016, in which he had 32g of cancerous tissue removed, took place six weeks after the lump was discovered at Clatterbridge Hospital.

‘I was on the women’s ward, but was told I’d have my own room overnight to recover,’ he said.

Phil getting ready for the Future Dreams photoshoot, alongside TV personality Calum Best

‘The operation was over in a couple of hours, so I was out by teatime and one of the women came up to my room and invited me to sit with them and have a cup of tea.

‘We were sat around in our dressing gowns, having a chat and swapping notes.

‘It was really nice and I didn’t feel out of place at all. We were all in a similar situation and were being supportive to each other.

‘Some were having to go through chemotherapy or radiotherapy. At that stage I didn’t know if I would have to have it.

‘They were all fantastic, strong women.’

A couple of weeks later, Phil was relieved to discover he would not need chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Instead, he was prescribed Tamoxifen, a hormone therapy which lowers the risk of early breast cancer coming back after surgery or developing in the other breast, for five years.

‘The doctors weren’t sure how it would affect me, because it blocks oestrogen production,’ he said.

‘Some women find their voice deepens, or they grow more hair, but I haven’t noticed any side effects.

‘I was relieved when I found out I wasn’t having chemo or radiotherapy, but I still hadn’t really processed what was happening.

‘I was like, ‘I’ll turn up and see what they say.’ I just didn’t worry too much.

‘I was posting little videos on Facebook throughout and, looking back at them, I was positive and still smiling. I think I must have been in a bit of denial.’

The speed with which his cancer was dealt with also, Phil believes, made his journey easier.

‘It all happened so quickly,’ he said. ‘It was eight weeks from me finding out to being told it had not spread and I would need no further treatment.

‘Next year I will have been cancer free for five years and will be signed off.

‘I’m under observation, but officially I’m okay. I feel so lucky that they caught it early. Early diagnosis is key.’

Phil says his daughter Evie will be screened for breast cancer from the age of 40 due to his experience, to be on the safe side

Phil also had genetic testing, but did not have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, which can increase the risk of breast cancer.

‘If I had the gene, there was a 50 per cent chance my daughter would have it too, so this was very reassuring news,’ he said.

‘She will be screened from the age of 40, rather than 50, to be on the safe side.’

Phil’s life changing experience also caused him to take stock.

‘At this time, I was working in my back bedroom designing websites. I did not go out and meet people and felt quite isolated,’ he said.

‘So, I got myself a little office in Liverpool and started to go out of my way to talk to people and to support them if they needed help.

‘People who had followed my journey on Facebook were messaging me saying how well I’d done and I thought, “I have, and I need to be more positive”.

‘This was in mid-2017 and I think I was by then really starting to process what I’d been through.

‘I began to consider what my purpose was and what I’d been put on earth to do. I’m still searching, but I thought, ‘I need to get out there and find out.”

With a history in website and packaging design, Phil started running business workshops and volunteered with a charity that brings together young people with old people, to try and combat loneliness.

Then in January 2018, he saw a Facebook advert from Zebedee Management, a modelling agency aiming to increase the representation of disabled people, who were looking for a man with a mastectomy scar for a campaign.

‘I sent them some photos,’ he said.

‘I wasn’t selected that time, but I kept sending pictures to remind them I was still there.

Evie, ten, who was six at the time of her dad’s diagnosis. Phil said that his daughter’s presence during his illness kept him positive and meant he did not have time to dwell on the future

‘Then, in July 2019, I sent them again with a ‘Just reminding you I’m still here,’ note and they got in touch to say a German fashion brand called Zalando wanted me to go to London for a shoot.

‘They are the biggest European fashion brand and were looking for a man with a mastectomy scar, so it was very exciting.

‘There were five of us and I would be the token bloke. I thought if it helped to raise awareness of breast cancer, it was great.

‘The people were lovely, I was dressed up and properly pampered. It was a fantastic day.’

After the campaign was released last October, Phil signed with the agency, going on to feature a Specsavers advert last November.

At the same time, he was learning to dance, so he could take part in a Strictly Come Dancing-style event to raise money for Maggie’s, a charity providing cancer support.

‘At the casting for Specsavers they asked what I’d been up to lately and I told them I’d been learning to dance, so they filmed me teaching Latin dance which came across well on camera,’ he said.

‘The casting director said I should push to get more generic modelling work, so that’s what I’m doing now.’

Meanwhile, with his daughter a big fan of Strictly Come Dancing, he took training for the charity event, held in November 2019, seriously – learning the Rumba with a professional dancer.

‘We found out that Strictly’s Shirley Ballas was going to be a judge for the event and that the Rumba was her favourite dance, so the pressure was on!’ he laughed

‘I was terrible at first, but I got better and we managed to raise £60,000 for Maggie’s.

‘After the event finished, I was in tears. It was so intense! I didn’t win but the charity was a winner!’

Now Phil is one of the faces of a new campaign launching this month, called Let’s Nail Breast Cancer, for the charity Future Dreams, alongside TV personality Calum Best and The Apprentice judge Claude Littner.

As part of the campaign, they were photographed with pink nails to try and open up the conversation about breast cancer.

What are the symptoms of male breast cancer?

Breast cancer is rare in men. There are about 350 men diagnosed each year in the UK. This compares to around 55,000 cases in women. 

The most common form of cancer in women and men is called ‘invasive breast carcinoma – no special type’. 

The risk factors for male breast cancer include:

  • Getting older 
  • High oestrogen levels 
  • Men who are very overweight (obese)
  • chronic liver conditions, such as cirrhosis
  • Some genetic conditions
  • Klinefelter’s syndrome  
  • Exposure to radiation 
  • Family members with breast cancer or a breast cancer gene 

The most common symptom for men with breast cancer is a lump in the breast area. This is nearly always painless.

Other symptoms can include:

  • oozing from the nipple (a discharge) that may be blood stained
  • swelling of the breast
  • a sore (ulcer) in the skin of the breast
  • a nipple that is pulled into the breast (called nipple retraction)
  • lumps under the arm
  • a rash on or around the nipple  

The same treatments are used for breast cancer in men as for women. 

Source: Cancer Research UK  

Phil added: ‘My main message is if you experience any change in your body get it checked out.

‘The earlier you catch it the better the outcome for you and for the NHS, who can save money on treatments such as chemotherapy, if it has not had chance to spread.

‘I might never know if I’ve helped someone by telling my story, but if someone came up to me in 20 years’ time and said, ‘I found a lump and got it checked out thanks to you,’ that would be amazing.’

Future Dreams is a charity dedicated to raising funds for support, awareness and research for those touched by Breast Cancer.

Each year they run a campaign called Let’s Nail Breast Cancer where they encourage women to paint their nails pink throughout the month of October to show their support for those touched by breast cancer.

A spokesman for the charity said: ‘Our aim is to create an ongoing annual campaign similar to Movember in that when you see a guy with hot pink nails you automatically think of Let’s Nail Breast Cancer.

‘This year however we are mixing things up a little and instead challenge men to paint their nails pink in solidarity with those they know who have been touched by the disease.’

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