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Wales Online
Wales Online
PA & Brett Gibbons

Military hero dies with brain tumour six days after being given 12-18 months to live

A charity volunteer whose husband was awarded an OBE for his exceptional service with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary has revealed how a catastrophic brain tumour claimed his life less than a week after diagnosis. Phillipa Anders, 52, told how her husband-of-18-years, Captain Rob Anders, 49, died just six days after being given 12-18 months to live.

Still coming to terms with his death, with the help of her children, Nell, 17, and Will, 16, Phillipa, of Rendlesham, east Suffolk, said: “He was over 6ft tall and weighed around 16 stone. Yet, this brain tumour took him down within a week. He didn’t stand a chance.”.

Rob, who served for 30 years in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, rising from a deckhand at 17 to the deputy commodore – second in charge of the entire fleet – at the time of his death, was awarded an OBE in March 2020 for leading a rescue mission following a hurricane in the Bahamas.

Rob directed a crew, including personnel from the RAF, Navy, Royal Engineers. the Royal Logistics Corps and the Royal Marines and, using boats and a helicopter, he oversaw the clearing of 50 miles of blocked roads to bring aid to nine remote communities during the devastating natural disaster. But just months after his remarkable achievements were recognised by royalty, he was dead.

Phillipa said: “Rob hated being thought of as a hero. He said the OBE should have gone to the ship, not him. Still, he helped so many people in his life. Now, by sharing what happened to him, I’m hoping he can help even more.

Meeting Rob in 2002, Phillipa said he brought his approach to work into their relationship from the start. She added: "He was the same with me. He met me, decided I was the one, within a year we were married, a year on we had Nell, then a little over a year later we had Will.”

Rob was based in Portsmouth in autumn 2020 when the first signs of his brain tumour were appeared during the pandemic. He began complaining of pins and needles to Phillipa during his daily calls home, but initially put the symptoms down to stress.

In December, with Rob’s pins and needles now impacting his arms and face, Phillipa drove down to Portsmouth to take him to A&E at Ipswich Hospital in Suffolk. He was admitted and an MRI scan revealed a 7-9cm mass on his brain, which was confirmed as a terminal brain tumour the following day.

Due to the advanced stage of the cancer, Rob was given 12-18 months to live and scheduled for urgent surgery the following week to remove a portion of the tumour before having palliative chemotherapy. Unable to visit because of Covid restrictions, Phillipa said: “Rob just went into panic mode. He was looking for life insurance documents, pension stuff. All his focus was on where we’d be financially.

“Seeing this big, brilliant, capable person terrified and anxious and not being able to do routine things for himself, I just couldn’t think of myself. When I dropped Rob at the hospital, he was walking, talking.

"When I picked him up days later, he couldn’t walk and was in a wheelchair. He couldn’t even really speak and was so confused. He’d also lost a huge amount of weight in just days.”

The night before his scheduled surgery at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, a two-hour drive from their home, Phillipa became concerned about his condition. Initially, she thought it was worry about the operation, but she eventually called 111 who told her to take him to Addenbrookes A&E straight away.

Again, the whole family drove to the hospital, but the children were unable to come inside, so Rob told them he loved them and would see them soon. Within half an hour of arriving at the hospital, Phillipa was beside her husband’s bed when he went an odd colour and made a strange noise.

Medics rushed in, resuscitated him and Phillipa was sent home. It was later confirmed a cyst even larger than the tumour was also present in the back of Rob’s brain, causing pressure, which had brought on a seizure.

That evening, the hospital called and asked Phillipa to return as soon as possible. She arrived to the news that her husband had suffered another seizure lasting two hours and that, tragically, there was nothing more that could be done.

At 1.30am on December 22, 2020, Phillipa sat beside her husband as he passed away. Recalling the moment, she said: “It was almost beautiful. Rob was unconscious, but I was told he could hear me. I told him how wonderful he was and truly believe he could hear me. I sat there holding his hand and then he was gone.”

Just six days after his diagnosis, Rob had passed away aged 49. Moments after his death, Phillipa received a text from Nell, who had not yet been told the severity of the situation.

Both she and her brother had “felt” the moment their father had passed away. Phillipa said: “I didn’t speak to the kids whilst I was at the hospital. I saw the message from Nell but stuff in the hospital overtook anything else. I just remember my heart dropping.”

After receiving invaluable support from The Brain Tumour Charity in the wake of Rob’s death, the family have raised more than £18,000. According to the charity, around 12,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with a brain tumours each year and the Anders family hope that, by raising funds and awareness, they can continue Rob’s lifelong heroic work.

Alex Lochrane, chief executive at The Brain Tumour Charity, which funds world-class research and provides specialist support services, said: “Phillipa and the Anders family have been through a truly awful ordeal after losing Rob to a brain tumour in such a sudden manner. Glioblastoma brain tumours are particularly aggressive and can unfortunately take away a loved one incredibly quickly.”

The most common warning signs of a brain tumour are:

  • Headaches
  • Changes in vision
  • Seizures
  • Nausea or sickness
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Fatigue

For more information, see

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