Half Empty or Half Full, I'm Just Glad to Have a Glass by Tim Bilton

My name, for those of you that don’t know, is Tim Bilton. I’m a chef, husband and dad to two incredible boys Henry, 15, and Charlie, 9. I also have stage 4 incurable cancer but I try to forget the last bit. I’ve been battling this disease since 2013, so seven years.

I originally found a blemish on my left eye, but that wasn't the reason that I went to the doctors. I had pulled my back and wanted some strong pain killers, as I was just opening my second restaurant. However, as I was leaving, I just said "while I’m here will you just have a look at this in my eye?".  

Long story short: this was the start of my cancer journey (I hate the word 'journey'), my cancer battle.

Operation to remove my cancer, eye patch on, back in the kitchen after three days. Here's what followed:

  • Over two years they removed one large tumour and two smaller ones in my eye.
  • Two courses of Radiotherapy to eye sewing metal radioactive plaque to my eye ball
  • Chemotherapy injections into my eye ball
  • All while working 24/7 to build up my dream restaurant
  • August 2015 lump on side of face biopsy confirmed cancer was back. 
  • Major surgery to head and neck to remove salivary gland and lymph nodes.
  • 4 weeks after surgery Radiotherapy everyday for seven weeks.

I ended up just hiding myself away for eight months and didn't talk to anyone except my wife, Adele. I was in a very dark and desolate place for quite some time, but I really did think that I was beating the cancer.

I like to think that I’m very positive person but in January last year, I started to feel pain in my left leg - So much pain that I was not sleeping and struggling to walk.

After various scans and a biopsy taken from my leg bone in Birmingham... I discovered cancer in my left knee and tibia bone. A PET scan confirmed that it was also on a gland on top of my kidney, STAGE 4.

I cannot begin to tell you how far I’ve come since my final diagnosis.

When they say stage 4, they mean that there is no stage 5 and that your cancer is incurable. Everything you were working on or doing STOPS, with a thud so loud the ringing in your ears lasts forever. 

What matters is what you decide to do next. I asked myself, do I sit at home in a rocking chair feeling sorry for myself, or do I do something for the better? I chose the latter and started a blog ‘On a Knife Edge’ and started posting on social media.

So many people are still afraid to talk about cancer. Unless it’s impacted you, we don’t really talk about it.

When I post on social media, I do find it quite therapeutic and cathartic at the same time, like I’ve said it and it’s off my chest, or that weight is off my shoulders. I realise that once I’ve said it that’s it, its out of me and not sitting inside of me festering. 

It can be really tiring talking about cancer. It can be like a vacuum that sucks you down into a black hole. I don’t want to go there anymore. I’ve been to that place and I didn’t like it there. Writing on my blog and social media helps with that.

I said right from the start that I’m going to document the good, the bad and really awful days. I just thought that if I’m going to do this then I have to be real and vulnerable, so other men know that it’s ok to not be ok.

Quite possibly the other reason that I do this is more important.  

So what I’ve discovered is that there are a lot of pink cancers out there.  

Pink is usually synonymous with cancer in women, but believe me no cancer is pink.

But you women are really good at talking about it. There are many women blogging, but for us men there are very few, even if there are a few more men talking now than when I first started.

The few men talking about was the reason I was why I started 'On a Knife Edge'. 

Men are rubbish about talking about our aliments, if there is a lump or if something is not right with our back end. We tend to feel embarrassed and hide it away sometimes until it is too late.  

Cancer does not just effect that one person, it also affects your partner, sons, daughters, family, friends and everyone that you hold dear. Cancer is faceless, ageless and raceless. It does not care. It touches people from every corner of society. It does not discriminate.

Everyone reading this has an image in their mind of what a cancer patient should look like. Well I’ve been there, loss of hair, the whole nine yards. I am now on a different treatment, so this time I don’t loose my hair. However, it can make me feel like total shit. I can only describe it like being in a washing machine and then being pulled out. Or a really bad hangover but without the pleasure of having a drink the night before.

I am fighting this everyday, everyday. But my body is recovering better after each treatment.

I cannot control what is happening and that’s very hard. There is a massive stigma around dying and death. 

Look around (I’m going to tell you a secret).

Every one of us is going to die, there is no stopping it. Some of us will live a long time into our 80’s and 90’s Some of us will be taken too soon, some of us, well we don’t know what is round the corner. The gift is I’m more keenly aware that life ends some day, we go on to something else. There are only so many moments I have with people or experiences or opportunities. 

But we can choose how we are going to live and for now I’m living. 

Cancer throws a curve ball into your life like nothing else. Has cancer changed me? 100% YES but I may also say that maybe its changed me for the better.  Now to some of you reading this you might think that I’m crazy, but it has slowed me down I see what is important and what is not. I was so driven as a chef with my restaurants that I never looked up to see the beauty around me. 

I have no idea what being a husband and a dad will look like in a week, next month, I only know what it looks like today.

The response from my blog has been amazing, even when I’m a bit down when the drugs have a hold of me and I don’t post for a couple of days. People message me to say "keep it up Tim, my mate, brother, father, friend, granddad is suffering with cancer but loves seeing your posts so keep it up."

Now that is very humbling to me and gives me a real sense of purpose to keep documenting what’s happening to me and hopefully helps others.

I also cannot say how humbling it has been with the whole of the chef and hospitality industry sending and saying and doing so many nice things.

Gordon Ramsay 

Jamie Oliver

Marco Pierre White 

Rick Stein 

Delia Smith

Mary Berry 

Raymond Blanc

Gino Decampo 

Tom Kerridge

Ken Hom

People have said to me that I’m very positive person and that my glass is half full. But I now stop them and say no I’m just glad that I’ve got a glass. The greatest illusion in life is that life should be perfect but it isn’t we can only play the cards we are dealt. Cancer doesn’t have to be doom and gloom, it is that, but you don’t have to be that way about it. I find no value in placing time and energy in this question of WHY and HOW, you have to let that go from the beginning.

I remind myself that I have everything I need within myself, and while I have my own battles, so does everybody else, even if you may not see it at first. Being positive is a choice, I’ve trained my mind to be positive every morning I open my eyes. Life keeps moving, I keep moving.

Tim Bilton.

Tim can also be found on Instagram as @timbilton1972.


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