YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Longtime WKBN 27 First News meteorologist Don Guthrie, who has been broadcasting in Youngstown for more than 40 years, has pancreatic cancer.
As you may know, WYTV Channel 33 and WKBN Channel 27 work together and though we keep separate identities, Don is a friend and colleague of all of us at both stations. That is why last Friday, Don invited WYTV Channel 33 News anchor Stan Boney to Columbus, where he is undergoing treatment, to visit with him and his family.
It has been 29 days since Youngstown last saw Don Guthrie forecasting the weather, but as Don, his wife Debbie and daughter Kristy Guthrie walked toward Columbus’ Bing Cancer Center, the only thing different was that Don was 20 pounds lighter.
“This has been going on since right around Christmas time. I had very little appetite at the time,” Don said. “Still, the back pain I acquired never went away.”
They were joined by his oldest daughter, Amanda Frederick, who is a radiologist, and the five of them sat in the foyer, where they talked about Don’s life and the inevitability of pancreatic cancer.
“The perspective is just so different from this side. It’s just, when you’re faced with losing someone you love, it just changes everything. And you get so annoyed with people that say ‘oh, my coffee is too cold’ or ‘it’s the worst day ever.’ It just does not come out of my mouth that much anymore,” Amanda said.
“He would always throw a shout out on our birthdays and friends always thought it was really neat. Everybody would always call to see if he thought we would get a snow day the next day,” Kristy said.
Youngstown knows Don Guthrie as the area’s preeminent meteorologist.
But weather is not where he started. After graduating from Lawrence County’s Mohawk High School in 1961, he began his broadcasting career in radio.
“Spent five years as a rock and roll DJ in Wheeling. Some of the funnest times I think I ever had,” Don said.
His first job at WKBN was also in radio in 1970. Not long after, he started doing weather during the 11 p.m. news, then spent 10 years doing weather on the noon newscast.
In 1990, he became the main guy and rarely missed a day until recently.
“It’s such a vague type of symptom with pancreatic cancer,” said Debbie Guthrie, Don’s wife of 40 years.
She is also a nurse and was the first to suspect pancreatic cancer.
“Until finally, with the loss of weight, and back pain was just way out of proportion for what we were seeing on his MRI’s and everything,” Debbie said.
A PET scan on April 25 confirmed that Don did in fact have what doctors called late stage pancreatic cancer. On April 29, the doctor told Debbie, who then told Don.
“I was at work at the time and I drove home and I didn’t know how I was going to tell him, but I didn’t really have to tell him because when I walked in the door, he knew. He saw my face,” Debbie said.
“She said they got the results of the PET scan back and it’s the pancreas. And we both just lost it. I mean, it’s just devastating. It’s news nobody wants to hear,” Amanda said.
“I was trying not to think worst case scenario right off the bat,” Kristy said.
“And hopefully I am going to get the thing under control and beat it,” Don said.
Don elected to have his cancer treated in Columbus, where his three kids, including his son David, all live. A walk across the street put the group in the radiology oncology department of Riverside Methodist Hospital, where manager Carlene Gilmore is from Poland.
“I said ‘I think he was on the news.’ And I did, we checked it and sure enough, it was Don the weatherman,” Gilmore said.
On this day, Don would get the fifth of of his 10 radiation therapy sessions. The group watched as the technicians placed him on the bed and guided him into place. We then left, but were allowed to mount a camera inside to record the machine rotating around Don’s body.
It was shooting concentrated doses of radiation on the tumor in Don’s pancreas, with the goal being to shrink it. The radiation has already relieved his back pain.
“It’s painless. It’s absolutely painless. The worst of the exam is laying on a very hard board but they can’t make it soft or the radiation does not go through, especially when it’s down underneath me shooting up toward my back,” Don said. “I get off the table and I don’t feel any different than I did when I laid down.”
Doctor Tom Pedrick is Don’s radiation oncology doctor. He too is from Youngstown, a 1968 graduate of East High and then Youngstown State University.
“There’s not way to sugar coat anything when you’re dealing with pancreas cancer. They have a bad reputation for a reason. But he’s got a very positive attitude. We’re doing everything we can to make him more comfortable,” Dr. Pedrick said.
Stan Boney spent two-and-a-half hours with Don and he said Don never once complained, never asked ‘why me?’, even knowing that after radiation comes chemotherapy. As they held hands and headed home, he wanted everyone to know that his last radiation treatment is June 2 and, even at age 71, he plans to be back at work on June 3.
“And I think it’s going to be the best thing for him, give him a little more energy, something to look forward to every day. For as long as he can, I think it’s the best thing for him,” Debbie said.
“And I love doing my job. I love trying to outfox Mother Nature every day, so I am looking forward to it,” Don said.
You can send your letter, notes and cards here to the station at 3930 Sunset Drive, Boardman, OH 44512 and we will forward everything to Don.