At the beginning of his blog, Phil said of any future blogs, ‘If none show up for a while, it either means I’m dead or just couldn’t be bothered to write anything.’ It is with a heavy heart that I am letting you know that it is the former which has led to the dearth of updates…
I understand that many people were incredibly fond of Phil and followed his blog. Chapters 1-17 are so beautifully written; whenever he posted a new chapter, I would always tell him how much I enjoyed it and how I was looking forward to reading the next one. I imagine many of his family, friends, former colleagues, and online acquaintances found themselves in a similar oxymoronic state of being devastated by the life story he was telling yet captivated by the comedic and emotional way in which he wrote it. He was a genius with words.
You may also be wondering who I am. My name is Gráinne, pronounced ‘Gron-ya’ for those of you who are unsure (don’t worry, I would’ve thought it was ‘Grainey’ if I was seeing it for the first time as well): it’s an Irish name in case you were wondering. I am the partner of Helen and Phil’s youngest son, Stephen. Whilst I have not been part of the family for a significant length of time, everyone in the Tester-King household welcomed me with open arms and made me feel included from the day they met me; they may live to regret it, as I don’t know when to stop talking.
Here’s a photo of Phil and I from back in July; we were in the ‘naughty corner’ at one of his favourite places for coffee – Heath House; they do the best coffee cake, according to Phil.
During his final weeks, he discussed the need for a final chapter with Helen. On multiple occasions, he tried to start it, but tiredness always overtook him. With this in mind, he asked for it to be written posthumously and ensured that all the details necessary to do this were left in his final ‘handover document’ for Helen; this document also included such gems as the location of the stopcock and how to check the heating oil levels.
I felt it would be unjust to leave this masterpiece unfinished, so if you choose, immerse yourself in this chapter (and it may be a long one). I have received the blessings (and editing skills) of both Helen and Stephen to take on this ‘warts-and-all’ rundown of the final months of Phil’s life. Something he promised you all from the day he published ‘Eye Spy.’
In the final words Phil wrote, just days before he passed away, he said, ‘If you like warty old toads that have been subjected to a good dose of wartiness, this is the place.’ I truly hope you enjoy this chapter as much as you enjoyed those posted prior to this, and I hope I’m able to do him proud in telling the rest of his story.
Chapter 17 left off back in September when Phil was (im)patiently waiting to begin his treatment; it was published three days before he went for the magical medical cocktail of Ipilimumab and Nivolumab (Ipi-Nivo, for short).
September 19th, the day of treatment, finally came around, much to everyone’s relief – a total of three months and three days after the initial diagnosis was received back in June. Helen and Phil hopped in the car and made their way to Clatterbridge. As Phil mentioned previously, the treatment consisted of two separate drugs delivered through IV infusion to boost his immune system to enable it to fight away the cancerous cells in his body. The infusions took around three hours in total, with several ‘sharp scratches’ and copious amounts of tea for Helen, it was a seamless process and they were back at home and tucked up in bed by 9 pm.
It is worth noting that this treatment was plan B on Phil’s potential treatment course. Initially, the wonderful consultant at Clatterbridge overseeing Phil’s care (Dr Anna) requested that Phil went through the relevant tests to see if he was eligible for a new trial. It was a 50/50 chance that he would be eligible for the trial, the ‘toss of a coin’ as Phil would say. However, as he chose heads, the coin landed on tails and Phil didn’t possess the relevant antibodies to secure himself a place on the trial – feck! Ipi-Nivo came with a long list of side effects (there are 35 side effects, both common and less frequent, listed on the Cancer Research website) that we naively thought Phil had escaped in the early days after he received his first dose of treatment.
For 3 days following the infusion, Phil was feeling no more shit than he was feeling before it. He was still his normal self – the loving husband, caring father, compassionate friend, and humorous chap we all knew him to be! The first question I asked him the next time I saw him was “how are you feeling today?” to which he responded, “same shit.” We soon fell into a routine of using ‘more shit,’ ‘same shit,’ and ‘less shit’ as a way to determine how Phil was feeling each time we saw one another. Day 4 post-treatment was the first time he used ‘more shit’ as his response, and from that point, it sadly became an expectation that this would be his answer. Unfortunately, treatment heightened Phil’s ‘emeticky’ feeling, as he called his nausea in Chapter 15, and this quickly turned into vomiting. His consultant later concluded his treatment had worked almost ‘too well;’ Phil’s description of Ipi-Nivo was that it was like ‘giving his immune system an espresso,’ but instead of one espresso, his immune system received 5 espressos and 2 Redbulls and began to attack itself.
Following a couple of days of being unable to keep food down, Helen called Clatterbridge for advice, and Phil was admitted to Stoke Hospital. Fortunately, Helen and Phil were only separated for three nights before Phil escaped in time for his MRI in Clatterbridge on September 29th.
Still feeling ‘more shit,’ Phil and Helen made their way to Clatterbridge for another meeting with the noisy doughnut machine. After Phil and the doughnut parted ways, Mum and Dad #2 took the scenic route home to the cats, who had missed him a lot! Luckily, the scenic route took them past Snugbury’s, and it would have been rude not to stop off. If you’ve been to visit Helen & Phil and haven’t ventured to Snugbury’s, you’re missing out on some incredible ice cream!
The respite didn’t last long, as on Sunday, October 1st, Phil was admitted to Stoke Hospital for a second time as he didn’t feel any ‘less shit’ during his few days at home. What none of us realised at the time was that this time would be different to the last; this hospital admission consisted of 2 hospitals, 22 days, 2 weeks away from home for Helen, Stephen, and I, and all of the nasty side effects listed in the long list on the Cancer Research website.
During his time at Stoke Hospital, Phil was due to audition some speakers in preparation for creating his much-anticipated media room. This was supposed to occur on October 2nd, Helen’s birthday; instead, they spent the day in one another’s company on a ward in the hospital. Whilst I imagine there are other places they would rather have been (although I am not sure that speaker auditioning was on the top of Helen’s birthday treat list), I don’t think they minded too much as they were still together.
Phil was transferred to Clatterbridge on October 6th – Helen made a right nuisance of herself to facilitate this. Throughout his stay in Liverpool, he was treated for colitis, diarrhoea, and oral thrush, which was caused by the build-up of bacteria due to the lack of food he’d consumed during his second stint at Stoke Hospital. However, this did not stop the two of them from tuning in to ‘watch’ a half marathon taking place in Oxford.
At the end of Chapter 17, he mentioned a fantastic friend of both himself and Helen, Lynda, who was preparing to tackle a half marathon to raise money for a charity close to his heart – OcumelUK. They were cheering her on from almost 180 miles away! Lynda completed the Oxford Half on October 15th in an incredible 2 hours, 20 minutes, and 37 seconds (I would’ve collapsed before the 1-mile mark). Lynda, we may not have met yet, but I am incredibly grateful that my in-laws have such incredible friends surrounding them. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!
The weeks following his hospital admission became a blur; none of us knew whether we were coming or going, and we were very much running on autopilot because we knew Phil needed us.
Now, I know that Phil promised you a ‘warts and all’ story, and I intend to do my best to give that to you. Having said that, I do feel that there are specific details that Phil may have selected to share with you, but I will refrain from doing so as I am merely a narrator telling his story. I hope you can understand my decision.
Stephen and I first ventured to Clatterbridge on Monday, October 9th, and an extremely weak and exhausted Phil greeted us, accompanied by Helen, who didn’t leave his side. I previously stated that the family I have been welcomed into might live to regret it because I don’t know when to be quiet; a headache wasn’t something they needed to worry about on this day. As Helen had booked an Airbnb in Hoylake, a 30-minute drive from Clatterbridge (it was the Labour Party Conference that week, so Liverpool was a nightmare), we left to ensure a hot meal was ready for Helen when she left. Stephen and I spent that drive back in total silence – a rare occurrence for two people with ADHD. We spent four days in Liverpool the first time we visited and three the next time, and every day we saw Phil, he was making minor improvements as he was slowly regaining his strength and consuming food.
During our first stay in Liverpool, Helen and I were fortunate enough to have the culinary wizard that is Stephen cooking for us; he cooked a delicious salmon linguine. We took a small portion of this into Clatterbridge the next day, where Phil stated that it was ‘really nice.’ for those who know Phil, this is high praise. After the previous two weeks of everything tasting ‘wrong’, this was a massive step in the right direction. Following this, Stephen demanded a list of homecooked meals that Phil thought he might enjoy. He spent two and a half hours preparing a week’s worth of meals to take to Phil after completing the final of his four 12-hour shifts.
Fast forward two weeks and Phil was undoubtedly sick of being in hospital, so he and Helen put their heads together to formulate their first escape plan. This consisted of Phil (not so) politely telling them to ‘feck off’ when they suggested he stayed in for another night. And with that, Phil was released from his room, which felt a lot like a prison cell to him, and back into the wild. Only this time, he needed a little assistance with his mobility as his strength had deteriorated a great deal due to his lack of movement. He spent his first night of freedom staying in a hotel with Helen, as they had to be back in Clatterbridge the following morning for his IV steroids to treat his colitis. This was the first night in over three weeks he’d been able to sleep beside his best friend.
Upon our return from our second visit to Liverpool, Stephen and I had moved into The Laurels (suggested by Helen and approved by Phil). We wanted to ensure we could be there to support them however they needed. This consisted of cooking, cleaning, shopping, and collecting prescriptions as and when needed. It also meant that we got to eat together as a family, which was awesome, as Helen would say; we continued to laugh and joke together during our mealtimes.
The morning of October 24th came, and we were all preparing to welcome Phil home. I even went into town to get him a ‘welcome home’ balloon (which is still situated in the living room weeks later!) By 3 pm, Helen and Phil returned home, where they were greeted by myself and their youngest grandson, who couldn’t wait to see Grandad! 2 four-legged friends were anticipating his return, and it didn’t take them long to position themselves by his side!
Around this time, another dear friend, Carolyn, decided that she would take part in the Polar Bear Challenge in aid of OcumelUK; this involves swimming in open water once a month, between November 1st 2023 and March 31st 2024. Carolyn, I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but you’re crazy! Phil took a slightly different public view on his Facebook page, where he said – ‘I have no words for this lovely lady’s braveness’. We all agree you’re an incredible individual, and we all appreciate your bravery and dedication to raising money for this amazing charity! If you would like to donate to Carolyn’s Just Giving page, click on this link. Thank you, and I wish you the best of luck in completing the remainder of your challenge.
Being at home added a pep in his step, and he was eager to get on with the relevant DIY tasks in preparation for the upcoming renovations to the house. Less than seven days later, they were due to have a new staircase fitted, Phil described it as a vanity project but couldn’t wait to see it complete. There was work to be done on the gallery landing. Not even two days after being home, Phil was venturing up the stairs, unaided, to go and rewire lighting under the floorboards! Once the ‘man work,’ (as his grandson calls it) was complete, the team arrived to fit the stairs, and three days later, they looked amazing. The new carpet and a couple of days of Helen’s painting finished it perfectly.
With the renovation coming to a temporary halt, we (the whole family) continued to spend time with Phil. His brother, Paul, and sister-in-law, Lavinia, travelled from the furthest corner of ‘Welsh Wales’ to our home in Staffordshire, where the boys reminisced about their childhood, and the girls chatted about what to wear to weddings!
During Paul and Lavinia’s visit, Phil was once again summoned to Clatterbridge on November 6th for an additional dose of IV steroids to ensure the colitis wasn’t going to rear its ugly head again. After the intravenous infusion, and much to Phil’s dismay, they were informed that the quickest way for him to get his MRI was for him to be an inpatient; the alternative was to wait an additional six weeks.
In Chapter 8, Phil documented the part in his story where he received his diagnosis of stage four metastatic liver cancer. He also specified that his prognosis without treatment was ‘three months or maybe a year or so.’ The decision to have waited six weeks for an MRI scan would have been an unwise move on his part. Whilst Phil was most unimpressed that he had to be admitted to hospital for the third time, one of the Docs promised him that he could escape as soon as the MRI was complete. So, once again, the two of them found themselves away from home for the night, but they both agreed that it was the most effective and proactive decision. This time, Helen decided to stay put at the hospital – the room had a funky chair that went flat so she could sleep on it. A lovely nurse found a couple of blankets and they were set up for the night.
Following the completion of his scan the next morning, the two of them made their way to the exit; it took a while to convince the ward consultant that they had the time it took for Helen to get Phil’s socks on to get the discharge paperwork sorted before they left. Helen – who was still mastering the art of steering a wheelchair – leant down to Phil and asked if he fancied picking up the pace a little, to which Phil agreed. And with that, Helen began to run through the hospital corridors whilst pushing Phil towards the exit; imagining this scene of the two of them running through the hospital brings a smile to my face every time.
Later that day, they returned home to the four of us waiting for them, and there was a pot of homemade soup for us to enjoy for our final meal together before we bid farewell to Paul and Lavina.
Amidst preparation to welcome the rest of their children, Helen & Phil decided to take themselves for a nice meal out at a local pub. What they didn’t anticipate was a phone call that would change everything. The consultant from Clatterbridge rang as they arrived in the pub car park; this phone call detailed the results of his MRI scan that he had had less than thirty-six hours prior. In Chapter 11, Phil discusses the result of a previous MRI scan that he’d had in July; it was at this point that he was informed that he had ten lesions on his liver. Since then, we were told that it had presented in his lymph nodes, his left scapula, and his left hip bone. The MRI scan that he had on November 7th showed that the lesions on his liver had decided that a group hug was the best way forward, creating one very large lesion on his liver that was blocking his bile duct. Helen took to calling him Pikachu in the coming days as he started to look extremely yellow; he always smiled at this new nickname. While still on the phone, the Doc apologised for being the bearer of bad news and informed them that they would now be measuring Phil’s life in weeks. Phil broke the news to Stephen and I upon their return home, while Helen updated the group on WhatsApp, and we were once again lost for words.
On the evening of Thursday, 9th November, the four of us welcomed Kayleigh and Ian, Phil and Helen’s other two children, who had come to spend time with their dad. For the three nights they were with us, Ian cooked for us every night, and we all ate around the table once again, laughing and reminiscing about distant and not-so-distant memories. The weekend soon passed, and when Monday morning came, there was an emotional farewell shared between the two oldest children and their dad. The house was eerily quiet without their presence.
It was a busy week in the Tester-King household, as on Tuesday morning we welcomed one of Phil’s oldest friends, Phill (or as we called him, Phill 2). During Phill 2’s visit, The Phils spent a great length of time talking about the days when they were apprentices together, or discussing the mechanics of planes; it was like a foreign language to Helen and I.
Day by day, there was a slight deterioration, but we never expected our time with him to be cut so short. When I say deterioration, I don’t mean that he became a shell of his former self, or that there was any suffering involved, only that his legs became a little heavier, or his desire to have a mid-morning snooze as well as a mid-afternoon snooze and an early night became a little stronger.
On November 17th, Stephen was at work, and Phil was getting a little bit befuddled due to his medication. When he arrived home, the two of us went to sit with him, and he was still chatting. My favourite part of our conversation that evening was when Phil stated, “I need to get off the bus!” Slightly confused, Stephen and I enquired more about his bus journey; “Where are you going?” we asked him, to which he responded, “F****d if I know, it’s leaving without me!” At this moment, the two of us couldn’t help but chuckle amongst ourselves.
A similar conversation occurred the following morning between Helen and Phil, in which Phil requested that Helen ‘put his legs on.’ We’re all slightly unsure as to where his legs were, but Helen assured him that she would attach them for him.
That afternoon, we gathered in Helen and Phil’s bedroom; this ensemble included Phil, Helen, Stephen, Derek, and myself. We all sat talking to one another and Phil. We all ensured we told him how much we loved and cherished him.
On November 18th, 2023, just before 1530 hours, Phil took his final breath whilst holding the hands of his youngest son and his wife, best friend, and soulmate.
10 days. 10 days is how long we had with Phil, following the results of Phil’s latest scan.
Phil had previously expressed that, when the time came, he didn’t want to be in a hospital or a hospice. He wanted to be surrounded by his belongings, in his home, with his people. Helen did everything in her power to ensure that his wishes were granted.
After a brief period of comforting one another and mourning the loss of our beloved family member, we all switched back to being on autopilot. We began informing the family about their loss.
That day has left a Phil-shaped hole in our hearts. Our home has lost its sparkle. But we are together, and we’re taking it day by day.
During the final few weeks of his life, several emotional conversations took place in our home. Having spoken with both Helen and Stephen, they have given me the go-ahead to share a couple of these with you, and we hope it will give you an insight into Phil’s thought process during this time.
The first conversation is one that took place between Helen and Phil. They had many raw and emotional conversations, but this one stuck out to me the most. Phil told Helen that he wasn’t afraid of the act of dying. He was more concerned about what he was going to leave behind. He continued to be the selfless and caring man that we all knew and loved so dearly; even though it would’ve been perfectly acceptable for him to become selfish at this time, he remained true to himself until the end.
A couple of weeks before he passed, I made the most important promise I have and most likely ever will make in my life. We were chatting about one of his conversations with Helen, and I promised Phil that I would take care of Helen, Stephen, and his four-legged friends. I will do anything in my power to ensure that this promise is kept.
Throughout everything, Phil never strayed from the man who touched our lives. In Chapter 8, talking about Helen, he voiced his guilt about taking away their ‘shared golden years’. However, they may not get to race around Morrisons on mobility scooters at 80. Still, they did share a premature moment of ‘geriatric adrenaline’ when they ran through the Clatterbridge corridors.
In Chapter 9, he took a deep dive into his emotions and found himself questioning whether or not he was “spiralling into depression.” I would like to take this moment on behalf of everyone who spent time with him at his final weekend to confirm that he did not spiral into depression. His sense of humour never faltered. Helen & I were sat with him in the living room one day, and Helen gave an “AHA!” in response to something I said. The two of us were under the impression that Phil had dozed off, but we were both shocked to find that he had not as he also gave an “AHA!” as he mimicked Helen’s tone and volume, causing us all to laugh together at this moment. Along with his one-liners and other quirky remarks he had to make, he was always a good sport. One morning, whilst sitting in the kitchen, he was wearing a pair of joggers, a shirt, and his bag that contained his syringe driver. Helen commented that he looked like a French artiste, so they added one final touch to complete his look, and he continued to be a good sport as Helen laughed at his new look.
In Chapter 9, he also spoke about how all of the simple things we take for granted each day became more and more significant as time passed. I had the pleasure of watching the two of them sit together on the sofa, holding hands or stroking the cats. In his final weeks, Helen gave him every second she had; she would sit and keep him company, go and get him midnight snacks. She oversaw all of his medication and was everything and more to Phil; despite her duty of care to Phil, she still had more to give to her close family. She was a shoulder to cry on, a person to confide in, a chef, a mother, and a grandmother. But above everything, she was Phil’s best friend. No matter what was happening, he was okay if she was there.
Helen, I would like to put in writing what I said to you in Liverpool. You are a real-life superwoman, and if I grow up to be even half the woman that you are, I will be insanely proud of that. You’re amazing, and we love you.
I promise this insanely long read is almost done, though I did forewarn you that I don’t know how to stop talking… apparently, that applies to typing as well. If you have made it this far through the chapter, I would like to thank you for taking the time to read the final chapter in Phil’s story; I don’t know if my narration of the time did any justice to Phil’s writing, but I know that the closing chapter is something that Phil wanted to put out there.
A final thought I would like to leave you with is based on a conversation that took place between Phil and Stephen. Over the years, the relationship between the two of them was not always as strong as it was when I first met them. They have both used the phrase ‘pain in the arse’ to describe one another from years past. However, upon receiving the updated prognosis in early November, Stephen was struggling to come to terms with the fact that he was going to lose his dad. During their conversation, he asked Phil, “What’s the point?” He went on to explain that it seemed to all be for nothing after the way Phil had lived his life; he was a hard worker, a kind soul, a devoted husband, father, and grandfather, and a stickler for the rules (minus the occasional speed limit or two). Phil thought about his answer for a while, and whilst he understood the point of view Stephen had presented, he came up with the best advice he could’ve given.
The answer he gave was to “have fun along the way.”
For those who wish to come and say their goodbyes to Phil, the details of his funeral are listed below.
Phil’s funeral will be held on Wednesday, December 13th at 14:30. The address of the Crematorium is as follows:
The wake will then be held in Cheadle, the address is listed below:
The Grosvenor Restaurant at Hales Hall,
All who would like to pay their respects are welcome.
Family flowers only.
The funeral directors looking after Phil are JP Keates in Cheadle; their number is 01538752164 for anyone with any questions or who would like to donate and are unable to attend.
When discussing his funeral with Helen, Phil only had two wishes; all attendees should have a shot of vodka at the wake and, on departing the Crematorium, all should ‘don an eye patch’ over their left eye and give him a hearty pirate ‘Ooooo arrrrr’ salute.
Neither of these are compulsory, but should you wish to partake, a small number of eye patches will be available at the crematorium, and a shot of vodka will be available at The Grosvenor.