BILL Heine smiles, his eyes twinkling as he delivers the bombshell which, he admits, never fails to shock.

"I've got terminal cancer," he says, looking nervously around the room. "Doctors have given me 18 months to live – and I have already had three of those months. That doesn't leave long left.

"I feel like a cricket ball that's just been hit. I want everybody to know, though."

It's hard to take in, and impossible to believe. Bill, 72, is one of the best-known faces in Oxford – a journalist, BBC Radio Oxford presenter, the man behind East Oxford's Penultimate Picture Palace (now Ultimate Picture Palace) and the born rebel famed for sticking a shark in the roof of his Headington home and battling a stubborn city council hell bent on getting it removed.

He won of course. Bill usually does – though this time his adversary is even more pernicious than the inflexible bureaucrats he spent much of the 1980s sparring with. Still, he is determined to fight it every step of the way.

"I actually found out accidentally," he says, shaking his head as he recounts the rapid sequence of events which lead to the life-changing news.

Five months ago, while relaxing at home – a converted tithe barn in Waterstock – with his partner of 32 years, Jane Hanson, he mentioned a swelling he had noticed on his shin. He assumed it was an insect bite and was nothing to worry about, however, Jane, a professional potter, urged him to visit his GP in Beaumont Street, who, in turn, instructed him to go to hospital for a series of blood tests at the city's Churchill Hospital.

"I thought the problem would go away but Jane insisted I see my doctor, so I went the next day. The nurse there looked appalled and said it could be very serious and told me that if it got worse I had to call the hospital immediately.

"She brought a colleague and a doctor in. I asked what would happen if I didn't go to hospital and she made a cross with her fingers. They clearly took it very seriously even if I didn't."

Days later, in early July, he was admitted to the Churchill through a series of tests. And it was while wired up to a machine during yet another blood test that the shattering news was revealed.

"One of the nurses who didn’t expect to see me, spotted me and came straight up. She said 'Bill, you’ve got leukemia'. I suppose there's nothing worse than dragging news out though."

Yet there was a glimmer of hope. "She said this was an important time for people with leukemia because there were new tests, and options to take part in trials with experimental, state of the art drugs. She was totally positive and lifted my spirits. It didn't soften the blow but it changed my perception."

Two days later the news was confirmed by a consultant.

"I was told I had acute myeloid leukemia – or AML.”

He also delivered the knockout blow, that the average life expectancy was just 12 to 18 months.

"I didn't want to believe him," says Bill. "I thought I would last up to 15 years but we hadn't really talked about it.

"We were totally dejected. There seemed to be no ledge to stand on and no way of fighting this aggressive form of a killer disease."

Refusing to believe the news, he tested the consultant. "I needed to have a last shake of the dice and find out if this guy was telling the truth. I don't smoke, but we all know what doctors think of smoking so I asked what if I smoked.

“He said: 'I know it’s difficult if you are addicted. I won’t say stop because if this helps you deal with cancer it may be a good thing. However if you pull through the cancer treatment it would be hard to see you die of a stroke from smoking. But since you have such little time left…'

"He went against his convictions as a medical professional and said 'keep smoking if you want and enjoy it. Time is limited.'

"Then I knew it was serious.

"The penny had dropped but it was still spinning. There was not one ray of optimism. My particular rainbow spelt 'no!'.

The one lifeline was the hope of being selected to join the medical trials for the new drug, Durvalumab. The odds were stacked against him, though.

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"I had to jump through hoops though," he says. "You need to have to be right, physically and half the people don't actually get the drug because it's a controlled test. I got through though, which is incredible because there are only 110 participants and only three in the Oxford hospitals area – and the other two are not getting the drug. Then within two days of being told I was getting the drug the list was closed.

"I feel like a gunslinger in a shoot out, in which the bad guy has pulled the trigger and hit my heart – only to have the bullet stopped by my sheriff's badge"

"I'm feeling lucky!"

He is now compiling a 'bucket list' of things to do before he dies.

"What they don't tell you is you can't do most things because you're not allowed to fly because you can't get insurance... It has forced me to look at the physical sense of who I am.

"But I want people to know about it – and wanted them to find out through the Oxford Mail. I thought that if I wrote about it in a way that was accessible and engaging it would help me to fight it too. Also, people don't understand the humour, as some of this is extremely funny.

"I have met so many other people at the Churchill who are so brave. It's hard to imagine how they cope. You just see the ripples beneath the surface."

Still refusing to accept the consultant's grim prognosis, Bill is busy planning for the future. "I went to a car boot sale the other day and found something I'd always wanted," he grins. "It's a plant propagator. I don't know if I'm going to be around in the spring to use it, but I bought it anyway. I am sticking two fingers up to the cancer!

"You might expect me to say it's going to limit me, but I don't get that feeling. I'm waiting for the second punch. I haven't had it yet – and hope I never will.

"I'm in a state of limbo. People ask me how I feel about living with this uncertainty, but I tell them I'm someone who put a shark in my roof – and didn't expect that to last 31 hours let alone 31 years.

"My attitude towards uncertainty is robust and healthy!"

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An American eccentric who fell in love with Oxford – and the NHS

BROADCASTER, journalist, cinema owner and all-round eccentric, Bill has an enduring love of Oxford – a passion which saw him move here from his native United States. And, he says, the thing which first appealed to him is the very thing keeping him alive today: The NHS.

"I'm an immigrant who fell in love with this place and the people here," he says softly with another smile. "But the clincher for me is that the Brits have taken an idea of inclusiveness, compassion and care and made it part of their lives in the form of the National Health Service. This is a country where the ideals of the people have been enshrined in the way the country organises itself. And that, to me, is incredible."

Raised in the small town of Batavia, Illinois – population 3,000 – Bill admits to always having been an outsider. "I think that sense of being a foreigner has allowed me to get away with things other people wouldn't," he chuckles. "I don't play by the same rules."

He goes on: "I grew up in a small community where everybody knew each other. I used to think it was suffocating until I realised that living in a big city was worse because you live in your own circle and only meet your own people, whereas if you grew up in rural Illinois you know everyone – even the gravedigger. Still, I vowed to get out as soon as I could."

Securing a place to study American Diplomatic History at the prestigious Georgetown University in Washington DC in the 1960s, he avoided being sent to fight in Vietnam by volunteering with the Peace Corps in Nicaragua and then Peru – where his acquaintances included the actor Dennis Hopper, star of Easy Rider.

Earning a place at Balliol College to study Law, he moved to Oxford – and stayed. A self-confessed progressive socialist, he became a thorn in the side of Oxford City Council.

In 1976 he opened the Penultimate Picture Palace in Jeune Street with his then friend Pablo Butcher. The cinema attracted the ire of the city council by repeatedly showing banned and provocative films and for installing a pair of giant fibreglass hands to the front in tribute to the entertainer Al Jolson.

Then there were the can-can dancers legs installed on the front of his other cinema, Not the Moulin Rouge, in Headington.

But it was his next project which brought him into a protracted conflict with his council adversaries: the Headington Shark.

The 25ft-long fibreglass fish was installed in the roof of his house at 2 New High Street – near his cinema – in August 1986.

Designed by sculptor John Buckley and built by carpenter Anton Castiau, it remains an iconic landmark. Initially intended as a protest against the American bombing of Libya, Bill has also described it as a statement about nuclear weapons (it was erected on the 41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki).

Despite repeated calls from the council to remove it, Bill fought to keep it, the sculpture ultimately winning a reprieve in 1992 after an appeal to the then Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Heseltine.

He says of the council: "They just couldn't take it on the chin and didn't believe they could lose."

Bill also earned fans for his journalism, starting in the Oxford Star and continuing in the Oxford Mail, and for his popular shows on BBC Radio Oxford, where he worked for more than 30 years until 2015.

He has a son, Magnus, a chemist who lives in Nottingham.

He has written two books, Heinstein of the Airwaves and The Hunting of the Shark.

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'There's a shooting war going on in my body'

LEUKEMIA is a cancer affecting blood-forming tissue – in particular bone marrow.

It causes the over-production of abnormal white blood cells, which protect the body against infection.

Bill's form of the disease, Acute Myeloid Leukemia is caused by damage to the genetic material in blood-forming cells causes problems with blood cell development. Blood cells fail to develop as expected, leading to a build-up of immature cells called myeloblasts. These blasts fail to act like fully developed, healthy blood cells, damaging the immune system and reducing the number of healthy blood cells, including red blood cells, which carry oxygen and platelets, which help the blood to clot.

This can lead to anemia, risk of infection and easy bruising and bleeding.

Clinical trials of the cancer-busting drug Durvalumab is offering a lifeline to patients like Bill.

The drug acts by marking the damaged cells which are then killed by a second drug, in Bill's case the chemotherapy drug Azacitidine.

"I look at my hands and know there's a shooting war going on," says Bill.