If you’ve visited Bellaire’s top smokehouse Blood Bros. BBQ in the last several weeks, you’ve likely missed a familiar face. Co-owner Terry Wong was recently diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer and has been healing from surgery. Now, on the road to recovery, he’s hoping to raise awareness.
The 48-year-old restauranteur, who also helped launch Chow Down in Chinatown, a Facebook group that promotes Asian-owned businesses, was diagnosed with colon cancer in February after experiencing weeks of stomach pains and discomfort. CT scans and a colonoscopy are likely what saved his life, he said.
The barbecue enthusiast, who co-founded Blood Bros. with his brother Robin and friend Quy Hoang in 2013, said he started experiencing stomach pains in December, around Christmas. He consulted a doctor who gave him antibiotics, and, though the medicine temporarily helped, his stomach cramps lingered.
Despite trying to watch his diet (no easy feat during a scheduled vacation), Wong said by mid-January, he began having digestion issues. A doctor suggested Wong get a CT scan which showed he had diverticulitis, an inflammation or infection in his digestive tract — a condition common in people over 40. Wong tried to ease the irritation by doing a colon cleanse with saltwater that only disturbed his stomach more. He returned to the doctor who did another CT scan. This time, it revealed a blockage in his stomach. It was a cancerous tumor.
“It was pretty scary,” said Wong.
“It was literally like in the movies. When you hear that the diagnosis is cancer, that’s when everything turns into a blur.”
From there, things began moving quickly.
His pain progressed, and the day Wong was scheduled for surgery, his stomach began to balloon, a sign of abdominal distension. Doctors rushed him into surgery, where they said Wong went into septic shock. Though the surgery was a success, Wong said doctors explained had they waited just a few hours more to perform his surgery, his stomach likely would have exploded.
Despite days in the hospital and a rough bout with pneumonia, recent check-ins with the surgeon have been all good news, Wong said. Doctors said all of the visible cancerous mass has been removed and that radiation won’t be needed, which has been “the best news ever,” Wong said.
Still, Wong said he has one more procedure and several check-in appointments before chemotherapy begins. Doctors also say he could likely return to work two to three times a week once he begins chemo within the next several weeks, so long as he’s careful with his body and diligent about masking, Wong said.
Though dealing with the emotional and financial aspects of recovering from cancer has been stressful — Wong said bills from his recent hospital stay are now in the six figures — Wong is now focusing on improving his health and reminding others to do the same. Growing up, Wong said he and his parents didn’t talk much about health issues, and he was always under the impression that getting a prostate exam or colonoscopy should happen when a man is around the age of 50. Now, Wong said his doctor advises that men get examined at 45, at the very latest — with some experts suggesting even earlier due to people receiving earlier diagnoses.
According to the American Cancer Society, colon and rectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and in women, and the second most common cause of cancer deaths when men and women are combined. The death rates have dropped for decades, however, thanks to screenings that allow doctors to find and remove polyps before they turn cancerous, or to find cancer so that it can be treated earlier.
Wong said he views himself as a cautionary tale of what can happen if a person puts off going to the doctor or getting their gut checked.
“I feel like it’s really necessary what I’m going through to convince people to get CT scans and colonoscopy and to start thinking about that in the mid-30s at least, that way you don’t have to go through this crazy crap that I’m going through,” Wong said.
Wong said ironically, he’s been eating his healthiest in the past year. He changed his diet and stopped smoking and drinking after losing the vision in his right eye due to an eye infection in 2017, which is why the recent diagnosis came as a shock.
The biggest lesson learned, he said, is to listen to your body.
“I probably should have listened to it earlier,” said Wong, noting that his fiance had urged him to go get checked, but daily responsibilities and passions like work can cause one to put health on the back burner. Now he’s taking care of it with hopes that he can return to his Bellaire barbecue haven.
“I want to get back to work. I’m going nuts,” Wong said, and it seems like his Blood Bros. community is missing him just as much.
“Every day, the guys are like, ‘All these customers want to say hi, that you’re in their prayers and they miss you,’” Wong said. All the calls from his friends have been “amazing,” he adds.
“I think everything happens for a reason. Even this,” he said. “As hard as it is, everything’s a test. You can either choose to not care and fail the test, or you can pass the test, it’s your choice.”
Wong said he’s doing everything to pass the test, and if sharing his story means even one person benefits, he said, “it’s already worth it.”