TV chef Jean-Christophe Novelli’s heartbreak over his 10-week-old baby’s devastating cancer battle
Little Valentino is just 10 weeks old and is battling neuroblastoma – a rare cancer of the nervous system
Telly chef Jean-Christophe Novelli and his cancer-stricken baby son lock eyes on each other in a heartrending image that will touch every parent.
Little Valentino is just 10 weeks old and is battling neuroblastoma – a rare cancer of the nervous system.
Hell’s Kitchen star Jean-Christophe, 55, and his fiancée Michelle, 40, have been shaken to the core.
The couple discovered the mite was ill just weeks ago and shared their devastating news on the same day singer Michael Bublé announced his three-year-old son Noah had been diagnosed with liver cancer .
Jean-Christophe Novelli with partner Michelle and son Valentino
Jean-Christophe, known for his fiery passion in the kitchen, has been reduced to tears by his son’s plight. He told the Sunday Mirror: “We found a lump in Valentino’s neck and we both went to pieces.
“There have been nights when I have sat alone, crying, asking God why this has happened to my little boy and not to me. I wish I could change places with him.
“Valentino is so tiny. You feel utterly helpless. My heart goes out to the Bublés and any other family facing cancer.”
Jean-Christophe and Michelle found the lump on Valentino’s neck on October 23.
Within days, it had doubled in size. Michelle was left hysterical when her son almost stopped breathing during the MRI scan which revealed it was cancerous.
The tot is battling a rare form of cancer
Days later, surgeons told her they were unable to remove the tumour completely because it was so close to Valentino’s windpipe and twisted in and around vital nerves.
But late last week, the couple were given a ray of hope when doctors at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge told them they were confident they could treat Valentino successfully with chemotherapy.
Tearful Michelle said: “I used to be scared of my children being snatched. It never occurred to me that they could get cancer.
“I haven’t asked what Valentino’s chances of survival are… I don’t want to consider that there is even a small chance he’ll die.
“These last few weeks have changed us. Being on a children’s cancer ward has made me realise we’re actually lucky because we have some hope. Others aren’t so fortunate. We count our blessings every day.”
The couple, who also have sons Jean, eight, and Jacques, four, were on cloud nine when Michelle fell pregnant with Valentino.
She told Jean-Christophe – also dad to Christina, 29, from a previous relationship – her pregnancy test was positive by leaving a pair of baby booties on his computer.
He said: “I was so excited my head almost hit the ceiling when I jumped up.”
When Valentino arrived in September, everything appeared to be perfect. But terror and panic struck when Michelle noticed the bulge on Valentino’s neck as she was feeding him at midnight at the family home in Hertfordshire.
She said: “Instantly, I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It was rock hard. Jean touched it. We started panicking.”
They went to A&E the next morning. The next few days passed in a haze of tests as the couple desperately tried to hold it together for their other children.
Michelle said: “The MRI scan was awful. Valentino was choking and his chest was rising and falling as if he was being repeatedly punched.
“Jean was with our older boys doing the school run so I was alone and I became hysterical. It seemed like an eternity before they got him under control again and I was on the phone to Jean-Christophe in tears.
“But I think Valentino sensed something was wrong. Seeing me upset seemed to make him cry, too. That’s when I knew I had to be strong. It’s so hard but I’ve barely shed another tear since.”
Doctors had to operate immediately as the tumour would obstruct Valentino’s airway if it grew. The surgeons were trying to get the entire tumour out but it proved impossible without risking serious harm.
Michelle collapsed in shock at the news. She went on: “Once in intensive care, I had a really surreal experience. I could feel someone behind me and hear someone calling my name but there was no one there.
“Several people close to me have died and part of me wonders if one of them was looking out for us that day.”
The couple stayed with their son until test results came back days later.
Michelle said: “Being in the children’s cancer ward was just so humbling. The whole team was absolutely amazing and I’m in awe of the work they do.
“At night, you’d hear children cry out in pain – no one should have to go through that – but they did everything they could to make them comfortable.”
A tearful Jean-Christophe added: “Every day, it seemed there were more children, more people going through the same hell. What got me was driving to hospital every day, seeing the chimney.
“It gave me a flashback to when I was in France. Years ago, anyone who didn’t make it had a funeral in the chapel and was cremated at hospital. I wondered if that’s where we were heading. Every time I saw it, I was in tears.”
Heartbreakingly, Jean-Christophe has not revealed Valentino’s illness to his elderly parents Jean, 77, and Monique, 84, who live in his native France.
He said: “I can’t – it would kill them. They have photos of Valentino all over the house but they have not yet met him. Thankfully, they don’t use the internet.”
Neuroblastoma has one of the lowest survival rates of childhood cancers. Around a third of sufferers will not see their fifth birthday. But tests have shown Valentino’s cancer has not spread, which means his outlook is far more positive.
Those diagnosed before they are one are far more likely to beat it, with survival rates around 83 per cent.
The couple have been allowed to take Valentino home.
The tot – named after Jean-Christophe’s Italian grandad – will return for four rounds of chemotherapy.
Michelle said: “Our other boys adore Valentino and just want to kiss and cuddle him. But I have to stop them in case they pass on any infections as he has no immune system because of the chemo.”
The support from friends, family and people across the UK has given them strength and they say they couldn’t have got through without the care of staff at Luton & Dunstable and Addenbrooke’s hospitals. Jean-Christophe cancelled work commitments and the Novelli Academy cookery school, attached to their home, will be closed until New Year as Valentino cannot be around lots of people.
But the chef will today return to work outside of the school for the first time.
Michelle, meanwhile, looks to the future with hope. She said: “What’s keeping me going is the thought of Valentino walking me down the aisle at our wedding, as a little page boy.
“That’s a nice thought to keep in my head on the darker days.”
Jean-Christophe and Michelle have donated their fee for this interview to C2, the paediatric oncology ward at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
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