Our society doesn't talk enough about death or dying – Cancer Fund for Children CEO, Phil Alexander

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Cancer Fund for Children CEO, Phil Alexander

Phil Alexander says his role in Cancer Fund for Children has made him aware of the fragility of life
Phil Alexander says his role in Cancer Fund for Children has made him aware of the fragility of life Phil Alexander says his role in Cancer Fund for Children has made him aware of the fragility of life

Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday I'm up early for a gym session at 6am. I'm back home again for 7.30am to help get our three children ready for school before I head to work.


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

I fast between 8pm and midday so my first meal of the day is usually around 12pm.


I normally grab a wrap or soup.

Evening meal?

I enjoy a home cooked meal with my family in the evening.


Is nutrition important to you – do you take health supplements?

Yes, nutrition is important to me. As I work out regularly, I make sure I drink a protein shake at lunch.


Ever been on a diet – if so, how did it go?

I don't tend to do diets. I prefer to take a balanced approach to food and nutrition.


Weekend treat?

A treat at the weekend would be pizza or an Indian meal with family.


How do you keep physically and mentally fit?

I am part of Best Self Club gym in Mallusk and they have a team of really great coaches who take time to listen and support members in achieving personal goals. We do small group training; it really is a fab community. I also try to do take cardio sessions outside of gym. At the weekends, I like to surf, paddle board and cycle. Recently I have been focusing on taking 30 minutes of personal time each day to go for a walk, mediate or pray. I find that this is needed to help me keep mentally fit.


Best tip for everyday fitness?

My tip would be, don't be too hard on yourself. I enjoy the gym but I'm not there to lift the heaviest weight or to compare myself to others. I find going to the gym helps me to manage stress and is an hour when I can switch off from everything else.


Were you a fan of schools sports/PE or do you have a memory from those days that you would rather forget?

Yes, I loved participating in all sports during my school years. I played lots of football and a bit of rugby.


Teetotal or tipple?

I enjoy a tipple on a special occasion or with a nice meal. Other than that, I don't tend to drink alcohol.


Stairs or lift?

Always the stairs.


What book are you currently reading?

I have just finished a book by Will Guidara called Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More Than They Expect. As Guidara defines it, "unreasonable hospitality" is going above and beyond in the pursuit of how you make people feel. He believes that this is a concept that can and should extend beyond the restaurant industry. It's an amazing book about leadership and going far beyond people's expectations.


Best Netflix?

I recently watched Unchained about the Tour de France. The teamwork and strategy needed is unreal.


Most surprising thing you learned about yourself over the pandemic?

I have learnt that difficult times do pass, one way or another. Covid, was challenging, in so many ways. At the time it was hard to see what was ahead of us all. I think society really suffered, but it did come to an end, too. I guess, for me, when I experience hard times, stress and anxiety I tell myself this too this will pass.


Any new skills or hobbies?

During Covid I was busy, so no new hobbies, but it certainly made me more resilient.


How do you relax?

We have a campervan and love the water. Relaxing is a trip to the sea and a paddle board or surf.


What are your goals going forward?

To continue with my fitness goals, to be present with those I love most and to complete my own campervan conversion.


What time do you get to bed and do you think you get enough sleep?

I head to bed around 10.30/11pm, so I usually get around seven hours' sleep which I think is enough.


Biggest gripe or regret?

I have no regrets.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

Through my work, I see first-hand how fragile life can be. We support children and families impacted by cancer. I meet incredible people and see their courage, resilience and hope in the darkest of times. This continually challenges me to live for today, to be fully present with those I love and to let go of things that don't matter. That's hard to do sometimes when life gets busy. I often ask myself what it would look like to be fully present – that's the goal.


Has coronavirus – or any health epiphany or life event – changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

Interesting question... working for Cancer Fund for Children, I meet people who have to confront a cancer diagnosis. I think as a society and culture we don't talk about death or dying enough. Often, when I spend time with people who know their time on Earth is limited, they have a unique perspective. They don't give up. They fully start to live. I think the closer we connect with our own mortality, the more perspective we gain about what really matters, where we want to channel our energy and how we want to live each day.