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Award-Winning TV Chef Who Lost His Sense Of Taste To Incurable Cancer Reveals That He Has 12 Months To Live

Award-Winning TV Chef Who Lost His Sense Of Taste To Incurable Cancer Reveals That He Has 12 Months To Live
Tim and his family (PA Real Life)

Tim Bilton was at the height of his career, planning to open his second restaurant and appearing on shows including the BBC's Great British Menu, when he was first diagnosed with melanoma, a type of skin cancer, in his eye in March 2013.

The award-winning TV chef was on the cusp of receiving a Michelin star when cancer treatment cruelly robbed him of his sense of taste, has revealed the devastating news that the disease has returned – giving him just 12 months to live.

Supported by his wife and their children Henry and Charlie, Tim fought it a second time when the melanoma returned in 2015, with treatment cruelly robbing him of his sense of taste.

Tim following an operation to remove a tumour on the left side of his face (PA Real Life/collect)

After being clear for nearly three years, Tim felt confident he had beaten it, only to discover cancer in his left leg and kidney in December which is at stage four and incurable.

Now focusing on keeping things as normal as possible for their children has regained 80 per cent of his taste, is continuing to work as a chef despite having to give up his restaurants.

“I'd noticed it had grown bigger, but Tim didn't actually go to the doctor for that – he went about four weeks later after pulling his back and asked them to take a look at it," Adele said. Describing how in March 2013 she first discovered an unusual red blister on the white of her husband's eye.

Tim having immunotherapy treatment (PA Real Life/collect)

“Within hours I'd had a call from the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield saying he needed to go to their eye unit immediately," she said. "We were in a huge panic. Everything was a bit of a whirlwind, because at that stage we were also in the process of opening a new fine dining restaurant in Hepworth. He had a biopsy and within days he had the cancer diagnosis. He had a tumor which was diagnosed as melanoma on the white of his eye."

Tim and Henry and Charlie (PA Real Life/collect)

The news was a terrible blow for the chef, who was flying high in 2007 just buying The Butcher's Arms in Hepworth, which he had transformed into an award-winning restaurant,

“My vision was fine because it was on the white of my eye rather than the retina," Tim said. “Surgeons removed the tumor and 30 to 40 per cent of the white of my eye, which they then re-stitched with a baby's placenta.

Tim and Adele (PA Real Life/collect)

“I'd always thought cancer wouldn't happen to me so my attitude was that they'd removed the tumor and I'd carry on as normal. The next day I was back to getting the restaurant ready," Tim continued.

Refusing to curb his ambition, Tim opened a new venture, The Spiced Pear in June 2013.

By the time his melanoma was first discovered, Tim was excelling professionally with two appearances on the BBC's Great British Menu under his belt and a Michelin star within his grasp.

Adele with Henry and Charlie (PA Real Life/collect)

But 18 months after his initial diagnosis he found a hard lump on the left side of his face and his consultant at Sheffield's Royal Hallamshire Hospital confirmed in August 2015 that the melanoma had returned – leading to an eight hour operation to remove the lump, half his saliva glands and some lymph nodes.

“There's no other way to describe it – I looked like the elephant man," Tim said.

Six grueling weeks of intense radiotherapy followed, with him having to travel for two hours every day for treatment, while Adele tried to keep the restaurants ticking over.

“It was like putting my head into a microwave. The first couple of weeks were okay but between week three and seven it was horrendous," Tim recalled. “My mouth was covered in ulcers. I couldn't swallow. Speaking became impossible. I lost 100 per cent of my taste. Everything I tried had the taste and texture of cardboard."

“It's like being a carpenter, wood is your tool," he continued. "And, for me being a chef my mouth is my tool, so not being able to use it was absolutely devastating."

Tim undergoing an MRI in 2015 (PA Real Life/collect)

Unable to eat and struggling to get out of bed some days, he relied on high calorie supplements from the hospital for nutrition, but became extremely dehydrated, so doctors treated him with a feeding tube.

“I thought, 'I'm a chef and that's not going to happen.' I knew I had to do something and I thought about how much I had to live for – my beautiful wife and children – and that made me more determined. I'd been given a second chance," Tim said. “I was eating pureed food and slowly introducing lumps. It took four months from my operation to being able to eat properly."

Tim shaved his head after his hair started to fall out following treatment in 2015 (PA Real Life/collect)

“It was very hard, because we had The Spiced Bear and a Michelin star was my ultimate goal, but I knew I had to concentrate on myself and my health. Knowing I might not taste again and being so close to achieving so much was very tough," he said.

Gradually, Tim's sense of taste came back, with the turning point being a holiday in Padstow, when he ate scallops with lime, chili and coriander at the Prawn on the Lawn restaurant.

“It was the first time my taste returned, when I tasted lime and coriander. I actually started crying. I couldn't believe it. It was an emotional moment and a turning point," he said.

Tim shaved his head after his hair started to fall out (PA Real Life/collect)

Having sold his first restaurant in 2013 to concentrate on The Spiced Pear Tim then took the decision to sell up again in June 2016 to concentrate on his health. Tim spent a few months recovering from the physical and emotional impact of the radiotherapy.

Then in July 2016, determined to continue in the profession he loved, he was offered a job at a local tourist attraction, Cannon Hall Farm near Barnsley, where he still works today.

“Tim's life had changed and he was no longer in the big chef world, but he was really happy and just wanted me and the boys to be okay," Adele said.

Tim with the mask used for the radiotherapy (PA Real Life/collect)

“He was cancer free and was returning to the hospital for check ups every six months, with everything looking fine," she continued. “But it was Christmas last year that he started to get a pain in his knee which he put down to an old footballing injury. It got worse and in January he went to his GP who sent him for some scans. We had no idea it would be linked to cancer."

Tim recalled being phoned by his doctor, who told him there was a tumor in his left knee, running down his leg.

“It was like a steam train had come and knocked me sideways," Tim said.

A further biopsy at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham in April confirmed the original melanoma had spread to the bones in his legs and later his kidney. At stage four, it was incurable.

Tim and Henry and Charlie (PA Real Life/collect)

Under the care of Weston Park Hospital in Sheffield, Tim is now receiving dual immunotherapy treatment, which activates the immune system to attack the cancer cells, but this can only prolong his life and not offer a cure and has led to inflammation of the liver.

“It was completely heart-breaking news. This cancer is such an aggressive thing and moves so quickly," Adele said. “Tim's reaction was, 'Cut off my leg,' but by the time they'd done that, it could have spread somewhere else."

Tim following the operation on his eye (PA Real Life/collect)

“We don't know if the immunotherapy will work, but without it he was given 12 months," she continued. While they have been honest with their children about the prognosis, Tim said they are now trying to live as normally as possible.

“You can do what you want in our house but there's one rule we live by and that is we don't lie to each other. We've been completely open and honest with the boys," Tim said.

Tim having immunotherapy treatment (PA Real Life/collect)

“They know their dad will be fighting this until his last breath," he added. “We're being as normal as possible. I'm not sitting in a rocking chair at home saying, 'Why me?' I'm still going to work and taking the boys to football and cricket."

In the meantime, Tim has a wish list, which includes taking Adele and their boys to New York, where they celebrated their honeymoon, and seeing his sons lead his beloved Leeds United on the pitch as mascots.

Tim with Henry and Charlie (PA Real Life/collect)

Having hidden away during his second diagnosis, he has also set up a blog to update people on his progress, stressing the importance of sharing and communicating his experience.

Tim has been overwhelmed by his family and friends' support – receiving well wishes from celebrity chefs, too, including Raymond Blanc and Tom Kerridge.

“The blog allows me to update everyone on what's happening and I've actually found it very therapeutic," Tim said. "I always wanted to help other men and let them know it's okay to speak out. Now people are not phoning us asking for updates, they can just read that. People won't come and ask how I am now but will come up and give me a cuddle."

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