Tex at the finish line of Bolton Ironman with arms raised in celebration

A father-of-two from Bolton discovered a lump in his neck that turned out to be throat cancer after shaving off his beard.

Tex Leece, 50, of Farnworth, Bolton, who used to play semi pro football in his spare time and has completed 9 Ironman triathlon events, was known for being very fit and healthy.

So when his wife, Jo, noticed a small lump in his neck, after he shaved off his beard ready for a wedding, at first he wasn’t too worried.

Tex Leece finished his 9th Ironman after finishing treatment for throat cancer. Credit: Julie Lomax Photography

Tex Leece with his radiotheraphy mask at hospitalTex, who has worked at Warburtons for 34 years, said: “I thought it was a cyst but then it didn’t go down for 3 or 4 weeks. My eldest daughter, Holly, who is a medical photographer, kept telling me to go to the doctors so I booked an appointment to keep her happy really.

“My GP wasn’t sure what it was and said he’d ask his colleague and be in touch. It’s a 5-minute drive back from my doctors to my house and when I was pulling up on the drive he called me back and told me I needed to go into hospital for tests.”

Tex had a biopsy – where a sample from the lump in his neck was analysed – at Royal Bolton Hospital in November 2021 and he soon found out he had oropharynx right tonsil squamous cell carcinoma – commonly known as throat cancer.

He said: “It was a total shock! I went a bit numb at first. I’m a really positive person and I’ve always looked after myself. None of my friends could believe it. Fortunately it was caught really early which made me feel a bit better. My doctors said because I was very fit and healthy my chances of a full recovery were really good.”

Tex agreed to take part in the Cancer Research UK-funded TORPEdO trial, co-led by The Christie and The Institute of Cancer Research, which aims to determine whether using proton beam therapy reduces long-term side effects and improves quality of life for patients treated with radiotherapy for throat cancer. He was treated at The Christie with a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

He said: “The staff at The Christie were absolutely amazing. I had my own team for the radiotherapy – I had to go in initially for them to make my mask – and then back every day and you become quite close. It’s quite tough at the start but you meet people who are going through similar things and the staff are really positive and amazing.

“The side effects of chemo are really tough – not being able to taste for a while afterwards, having ulcers in your mouth and losing your saliva, but I had a goal to walk my daughter Holly down the aisle. Her wedding was 6 weeks after I finished my treatment, and my doctor did a deal with me that I’d be able to do it and I did!”

Tex with his wife Jo and daughters Mia, 20 and Holly, 24

Tex with his wife Jo and daughters Mia, 20 and Holly, 24

Since then, Tex returns for regular check-ups as part of the trial and is in remission doing well. After the wedding he set his sights on the 2023 Bolton Ironman challenge taking on the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and marathon run – a total of 140.6 miles, in blustery conditions. He completed it in 14 hours 2 minutes, a few hours more than his personal best time of 11 hours 40 minutes.

Tex, who has now completed 9 Ironman events including ones in Austria, Frankfurt, Nice and Barcelona and five in Bolton, said: “This Ironman for me was personal. It was about putting cancer to bed.

“I didn’t have anything to prove but I wanted to do it again and give something back by fundraising for Motor neurone disease as I usually do.

“If you can catch your cancer early – that’s your best chance. I’m so glad I didn’t just ignore the lump, or it could have been growing for two years.”

Head and neck cancer is a relatively uncommon type of cancer. Around 12,400 new cases are diagnosed in the UK each year.