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Royals rookie Hill thriving after beating cancer

MLB.com @FlannyMLB

DETROIT -- Royals rookie left-hander Tim Hill looked in the mirror and hardly recognized himself. A skeleton, he thought. He needed to take a photo, perhaps just to remind himself one day of this trying time in his life.

It was the fall of 2015, and Hill was near completion of eight months of chemotherapy. Incredibly, he had lost 70 pounds during the treatment. He stood 6-foot-1, 150 pounds.

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DETROIT -- Royals rookie left-hander Tim Hill looked in the mirror and hardly recognized himself. A skeleton, he thought. He needed to take a photo, perhaps just to remind himself one day of this trying time in his life.

It was the fall of 2015, and Hill was near completion of eight months of chemotherapy. Incredibly, he had lost 70 pounds during the treatment. He stood 6-foot-1, 150 pounds.

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"I kind of looked at myself and said, 'Who is this guy?'" Hill says now.

About nine months earlier, Hill had been diagnosed with colon cancer. After being selected in the 32nd round out of Bacone (Okla.) College in the 2014 MLB Draft, Hill showed great potential in his first year as a professional, posting a combined 1.64 ERA in two stops in the low Minors for the Royals.

But in the spring of 2015, Hill noticed something was off during his conditioning.

"I couldn't catch my breath when I was running," Hill said. "I knew that was weird because I'd been working out and was in great shape, I thought."

A routine blood test conducted by the Royals provided some answers: He had about half of the hemoglobin a normal person should.

Hill suspected the worst. His father, Jerry, had died of colon cancer eight years earlier when Hill was 17.

"They didn't catch his until it was too late," Hill said. "It was Stage 4."

After the blood test, Hill got a colonoscopy. The physician located a tumor that would need to be biopsied.

"But the doctor knew," Hill said. "He said, 'I've been doing this 30 years. This is going to come back cancerous.'"

The doctor was right when the biopsy returned. Hill had Stage 3 colon cancer. There was evidence the cancer was in his lymph nodes as well. Hill faced a long road of treatment ahead.

"The toughest part, I think, was trying to tell my mom [Teri]," Hill said. "She'd been through this before with my dad. I think it's tougher when you have a loved one who has cancer. If it's you, you just immediately think survival and what you have to do. That's human instinct.

"I wasn't scared as much as I was shocked."

Yet, Hill did have some trepidation. He watched his father, maybe the toughest guy he knew, battle the disease and lose. His father was someone who once accidentally sliced open his hand and stitched it back up by himself, right in front of Tim.

"He was just as tough as they come," Hill said.

First things first, Hill had surgery, a procedure that removed half of his colon. Then radiation. Then chemo.

"The chemo was only supposed to last six months," Hill said. "But mine went eight months because I had to stop treatments a couple times. You're supposed to go six weeks on, two weeks off, six weeks on, two weeks off, and so on.

"But I would make it four weeks and I would have to stop because I couldn't eat, and if you don't eat, they can't give you the medicine. I got pancreatitis during it, too. It was hard."

But Hill was determined to make it through. And by November of 2015, he completed his chemo.

"The next month, the Royals sent me to a minicamp, and when I showed up, they saw I weighed 150 pounds," Hill said. "It was probably shocking to them. But the Royals really took good care of me throughout this."

The good news was the cancer was gone. And as the chemo began to cycle out of his body, Hill finally begin to gain weight again.

By Spring Training, Hill had begun working out consistently again and had put on 60 pounds.

"People asked, 'How did you do it?' I said, 'I started eating again,'" Hill said, with a grin.

On the mound, Hill never lost his edge, either. By the fall of 2017, Hill was placed on the 40-man roster for the first time -- "It was great to tell my family that good news," he said.

Video: LAA@KC: Hill gets Ohtani to groundout for second out

But there were more phone calls with good news to come, like this spring when Hill made the 25-man roster for the first time. And he has made the most of his chance, having not given up a hit in his first seven Major League outings.

But Hill, 28, must cope with constant reminders. He has a colonoscopy once a year and multiple blood tests to make sure he remains cancer-free.

Hill also now knows he has Lynch syndrome, an inherited disorder that increases the risk of many types of cancer, particularly cancers of the colon. Lynch syndrome is passed on genetically, and doctors have told Hill that his father passed the gene onto him, though no one tested his father for the condition at the time.

Still, Hill does his best to stay in the present, stay positive. He's in the big leagues. And most important, he's cancer-free.

"I don't really give it much thought anymore," Hill said. "It was what it was. It made me stronger. It's in my past, let's hope."

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Kansas City Royals, Tim Hill