by Angie Kay Dilmore
In late 2020, local meteorologist Ben Terry was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. The news was devastating, but not entirely a surprise. It was a tragic continuation of a health issue he’s been dealing with since the age of 22. Soon after college graduation, he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease which put him at an increased risk for colon cancer. The symptoms were debilitating to the point of initially hindering Ben from full time employment. For five years, Ben worked for a company in Jackson, MS that outsourced weather segments to TV stations across the country, all while he and his doctor tried various medications and strove to keep the illness under control.
In 2012, Ben took a career leap and moved to Lake Charles to work at KPLC. He quickly found Dr. Ricardo McCall, a Lake Charles gastroenterologist, and for several years, Ben’s health held steady, even going into remission after a few years. Because of his medical history, he had an annual colonoscopy, which invariably showed polyps, but thankfully no cancer. Ben was doing so well that in 2018, his colonoscopy was completely “clean” for the first time.
And then came 2020 . . . COVID-19, the hurricanes. Ben felt well, and with so many other things going on, he and his doctor opted to put his colonoscopy on hold until later that year when the pandemic eased. But in November 2020, Ben was experiencing some new, worrisome symptoms. It was time to get things checked out. A colonoscopy revealed a large, ominous mass outside his colon. Since then, at age 39, Ben is waging war on the greatest storm of his life.
Thrive magazine recently sat down with Ben, where he shared details of his career as a meteorologist, his fight against cancer, and his gratefulness for the outpouring of love and care from the SWLA community.
Describe your formative years.
I grew up in the rural, close-knit town of Kosciusko, Mississippi. My parents divorced when I was young, so I was an only-child, but I did have a step-brother. It was a normal childhood, whatever that looks like. I was a bit shy and introverted, but I played baritone in school, which kept me occupied. I always had an interest in the weather, but I wasn’t certain how to translate that passion into a career. I took general classes at the nearby community college for two years – band students got a free ride – until I figured it out. I discovered a program at Mississippi State University for broadcast meteorology, and I knew that was what I wanted to do. After another three years of school at Mississippi State, I graduated with a BS degree in Geosciences with an emphasis in Broadcast Meteorology. I’ve been with KPLC now for 11 years.
Tell us the course of events after your cancer diagnosis.
I had a giant mass that was sitting outside my colon. Dr. McCall said I needed to have my colon taken out and a “J-pouch” inserted, which bypasses the colon. He sent me to an expert surgeon at Methodist Hospital in Houston to have both my colon and the cancer removed. But prior to the surgery, an MRI showed that the cancer was more advanced than we realized – basically stage 4. Multiple organs were involved, most worrisome was my bladder. Surgery was off the table because the tumor was too large. Surgery was the ultimate goal, so the doctors and I opted for chemotherapy to shrink the tumor first. Starting in January 2021, I had chemo for five months. But the tumor did not respond. It’s an odd, rare tumor to be in the colon. Next, we tried radiation – every day Monday through Friday for six weeks. I temporarily moved to an extended stay hotel in Houston and continued to work full time remotely through all of it, despite fatigue. By the last day of treatment that July, they told me the tumor had shrunk by 60%, which was great. We had to wait at least six weeks to do the surgery so I could heal from the radiation.
In September, they removed all visible cancer and a third of my bladder and deemed the surgery a success. They also detached my colon but didn’t have time in that first surgery to take it out. Two days later and still recovering from the surgery, I spiked a fever, my blood pressure dropped. My colon had ruptured, causing sepsis. So they took me back to surgery to clean that out and repair the colon. After 12 days in the hospital, everything looked good and I came home to recover and await three subsequent surgeries which would take out the detached colon, form the J-pouch, and then connect the J-pouch. The plan was to heal, enjoy the holidays, and plan the surgeries starting in January of this year. In December, as a precaution, the doctor ordered a PET scan, and a couple spots lit up. I also had some bloodwork that came up low-level positive for cancer. It was odd and unexpected, but they weren’t terribly concerned at that time, thinking it might just be some inflammation.
To be certain though, the doctors ordered an MRI; but I got pushback from my insurance company, delaying the MRI by weeks, and I finally had the test in March. I felt fine so I was confident everything was okay. But my oncologist at Houston Methodist called with the MRI results and said, “This is not good. The cancer is back. There are two tumors now about the size of golf balls, and it’s very aggressive. It’s looped around the small bowel and it’s obstructing a ureter. Apparently, there was some cancer remaining in your body on a molecular level, and it is back with a vengeance.” He added that he wasn’t sure what to do. He was willing to try some chemo regimens. But he’d had no experience with my situation. And time was of the essence.
So I referred myself to MD Anderson for a second opinion. There’s a waiting list, and I was fortunate to get an appointment in ten days. They were basically as perplexed as the previous oncologist, saying my case is rare and it would be difficult to treat. But they’re willing to try their best. The good news is that it hasn’t spread to my liver, lungs, pancreas or stomach, which surprises the doctors, given this cancer’s aggressive nature.
So currently and for the foreseeable future, they can’t promise me a cure, the surgeries are on hold, and I am going to Houston every other Saturday for eight hours of intensive chemotherapy – five infusions back-to-back-to-back. I’m not giving up!
Despite the circumstances, your attitude remains upbeat and positive. To what do you attribute your hopeful optimism?
I have a strong faith. I have a lot of people praying for me. And I believe God miraculously heals people. God keeps people on Earth as long as they’re supposed to be here. We don’t know our day or time, but I feel like there’s more I can do. I’ve been transparent with this journey since day one. I have this opportunity to have a platform for early colon cancer detection. And I want to be a positive inspiration to others who are going through cancer treatment. I don’t know why I’m going through these trials, but things are working out. I trust God’s plan.
What advice do you have for others who are on their own cancer journey?
You can see as many doctors as you want, you can take their advice, or not. You know your own body better than anyone. Be your own health advocate or have someone be an advocate for you. Get a second opinion when you feel you need to.
The SWLA community has rallied around you in big ways. What does this support mean to you?
As a weatherman, I’ve enjoyed such a great connection with this community. I know they’re watching; they give me feedback. Since my cancer diagnosis, the community has been wonderful with prayers, encouragement, and fundraisers like the benefit by the Friends of Ben Terry committee and Gator 99.5 earlier this month. The outpouring of love from the community through prayers and financial support for my cancer treatments has been overwhelming. I am so grateful.