(Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared on Lebanon Sports Buzz on July 29, 2012. On November 5, 2015, Ben Witter lost his 30-year battle with cancer.)
BY JEFF FALK
Cancer is one of the most deadly – and the most dreaded – diseases in the modern world.
People who survive it once are lucky. People who live through it twice have defied the odds. Ben Witter has beaten it four times.
That makes Witter, a local golf professional, blessed, fortunate and miraculous. But there’s more going on than just that.
While he has certainly been aided by forces beyond his control, Witter has also taken a pro-active approach to what has become his on-going battle – learning what he can about cancer, trying different treatments and, as the late great Jim Valvano might have put it, not giving up, never giving up.
With each Witter victory has come mounting inspiration and hope. His latest bout with the affliction was certainly no exception.
“Faith is huge,” said Witter, the owner of Ben’s Power Golf, at Fairview Golf Course. “Without that you’re fighting an unwinnable fight. None of us gets out of here alive and none of us knows our expiration date. In the long run, this has strengthened our family. It has strengthened our walk with God. It’s a faith challenging situation and also a faith strengthening situation.”
After re-occurring bouts with cancer over the past decade, Witter, a former touring pro, was diagnosed with tumors in his brain, spine, jaw and leg in October of last year. Through a non-traditional treatment, Witter is not cancer-free, but in remission.
“In all honesty, it wasn’t that much of a surprise,” said Witter. “The kind of cancer I have is genetically coded. I knew it was there.
“Things weren’t looking too good,” Witter continued. “I had a visible tumor in my jaw. What was proposed was major surgery that would’ve required removing my jaw and replacing it with part of my leg. That would’ve ended my career and I did no pursue that surgery. But during that procedure they found tumors in my brain, tumors in my spine and tumors in my leg. The funny thing was that I never felt bad.
“Just the way everything worked out was an amazing turn of events.”
Witter’s latest cure was a collaborative effort between modern technology and some South American Mother Nature. The key to the healing powers was the ability of the remedies to attack the affected areas and to not harm surrounding tissue.
“I would describe it as being an alternate procedure,” said Witter, 48. “The doctors used what is called a ‘Cyber-knife.’ What it is is a super highly focused beam of particle emissions of radiation. It can target a tumor area without killing the healthy part of the body.
“What I also did was take a mushroom-extract from Brazil,” added Witter. “It comes in a liquid form and it kills fungus and viruses in the body without beating up the areas around it. It’s like chemotherapy, but it doesn’t hurt the healthy cells in your body. It’s been an amazing journey.”
And if that wasn’t enough for Witter and his family to endure, daughter Gabby was also diagnosed with cancer within two weeks of Ben’s October detection. But while Gabby’s type of cancer was different than Ben’s, she has a similar prognosis.
“Gabby’s on the road to recovery,” reported Witter. “Her cancer is totally unrelated to mine. She has the kind of cancer that attacks the marrow of the bone. The doctors ended up taking away three of her ribs. She’s gone through eight months of chemotherapy.”
While its challenges has brought the Witter family closer together, they have also provided a rallying point for Witter’s extended family – the Lebanon County golf community.
The astronomical medical expenses incurred forced the Witters to make deep sacrifices and threatened Witter’s business interest at Fairview and his traveling trick shot golf show. But a Lebanon Country Club group headed by former golf professional Mike Swisher raised much-needed funds for the Witters through a ‘Take a Swing for Ben and Gabby’ outing.
“It’s like a miracle in many ways,” said Witter, a graduate of Elco High School. “As a small business owner without health-care coverage, this was wiping us out. Mike Swisher came to me and asked me, ‘What do you need?’ I told him that we were in a pretty dire need for money. It’s been an amazing recovery and it was an amazing gift from the Lebanon Country Club.
“My promise to them was to beat this thing and to continue the outing,” Witter added. “That’s my new project. We’re going to do for other families what was done for my family. There’s families out there who are in the same situation.”
Through all of this, and quite unintentionally, Witter has become somewhat of a cancer expert.
“Obviously when you’re dealing with it on a personal level you come to learn a lot about it,” said Witter. “Cancer is an abnormal division of cells. There’s a very thin line between healthy and unhealthy cells. There’s thousands of different types of cancers, and they’re all different. It’s a battle that doesn’t seem to want to go away.
By fighting the good fight, Witter continues to win every battle placed before him. But he can never win the war.
“It’s been an on-going battle,” said Witter. “Hopefully it’ll be a battle I can out-last. I’ll never be cured. If I die of cancer at the age of 90 then I out-lasted it.
“This is my fourth time,” Witter continued. “Yesterday I went for blood work and there’s evidence that the cancer is there. There’s also evidence that the cancer has slowed down. It’s good news, bad news.
“Obviously it gets worse every time. Every time you go through it the body weakens. The attitude part and being active helps. I never have a time when I’m not doing something super-active.”