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"I [have] always loved her, but that love is just beyond breakable now," Tim Pyles said about his relationship with wife, Telene. Tim’s cancer diagnosis was earth-shattering to both. Telene couldn’t accompany him to his appointments during the coronavirus pandemic, so she stood outside in the cold so he could see her from the window. Their strong bond carried them through the emotional toll of Tim's cancer diagnosis.

The Life of a Champion

by Sam Mallon Fall 2021

Most of the country spent winter 2020 in a state of nervousness and uncertainty due to the pandemic. For Tim Pyles, that feeling was heightened. On November 20, 2020, Pyles was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. “That was probably the lowest point of my life,” he said. “I wasn’t sure of how much time or what was in store for me.”
“It’s like the breath taken out of you,” Telene Pyles, Tim’s wife, said. “Because he just buried two uncles, an aunt, and all of them died of cancer, so we didn’t think the end result was going to be this good.”

To cope with the mental and physical drain of cancer, Tim found himself spending days out at his barn, talking to the cows. He always had a dream of starting a small cattle farm — coupled with his desire to provide an economic cushion for his wife and kids, he purchased cattle in February 2021.

Telene knew Tim needed the space to “scream and holler, cry, whatever [he] needed to do,” when he spent days at the farm, but she felt anxious when she noticed her social butterfly starting to isolate himself.

Kentucky, specifically the Appalachian region of the state, faces the highest cancer burden in the country. For families like the Pyles family in Monticello, Ky., losing loved ones to cancer is disturbingly ordinary.

Tim Pyles reaches into Leni's crib and toucher her newborn hand.
"Leni gave me the hope, and the fight, to continue fighting," Tim said. When his daughter TaShea first told her parents that they were going to be grandparents, it refreshed Tim's drive to fight his cancer with everything he had in him. "I guess the grandbaby came along at a perfect time," Telene said.
"From that point on, I pinned my ears back and it was on, the battle was on."

Accustomed to loss at the hands of cancer, optimism can be difficult to tap into. Both Tim and Telene tell the story of one morning when Tim was sick and experiencing disheartening symptoms. “I told Telene that I wasn’t sure that [treatment] was going to work,” Tim said.

That same week, the Pyles learned that they were going to be grandparents come September. “From that point on, I pinned my ears back and it was on, the battle was on,” Tim said.

“He came close to giving up,” Telene said. “And then when [our daughter TaShea] found out she was pregnant and told us, it changed … I guess the grandbaby came along at the perfect time.”

Soon after, the family found out that Tim’s tumor was gone.

“We were really baffled,” Telene said. Tim told her that he knew what had happened — he had been touched by God. “Miracles are miracles … it really did put faith in perspective. If it hadn’t been for Tim and I’s faith in a higher power, I don’t know how we’d have gotten through it.”

As of January 2022, Tim has gone four months without symptoms or any cancer detected in his body.

“The first thing I try to do every morning is thank God for letting my feet hit the floor,” he said.

“To know Tim is cancer-free is liberating,” Telene said. “Liberating means I can breathe.”