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Farmer fears cancer will kill him before his day in court over Roundup weed killer

Ricky McCombs, suing Monsanto, fears for his family's financial future

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SCREVEN, Ga. – One week after a California jury awarded $2 billion to a couple who claims they got cancer from the weed killer Roundup, a Georgia farmer with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma tells the I-TEAM he wants his day in court before he dies from the disease. 

Ricky McCombs first spoke to us in 2017 when he filed his lawsuit against Monsanto, the maker of Roundup. McCombs said he's sure he got his cancer from glyphosate -- the key ingredient in the popular weed killer -- while working on his nine-acre farm in Screven, Georgia. 

Now, nearly two years later, the 56-year-old reached out to the I-TEAM once again for help, telling us doctors have given him 12 months to live. He said he can accept that he will die soon, however, what he cannot accept is not knowing whether his two sons and his wife Lucy will be taken care of when he's gone.

"You know what, it's OK. It's not your fault, we didn't know babe," said Lucy, emotional while comforting her husband during our interview last week.

Not only have the past 20 years been a physical struggle for McCombs, it's been a long, emotional struggle as well, after being diagnosed with cancer in 1996. He and his wife bought their farm several years earlier with hopes of living off the land and helping feed the community. 

"It's sad to know that this is what we wanted to do for our whole life, and we are down to eight squash and seven tomato plants, and that's about it," she said. 

The couple said the weed killer stole all their dreams in a long, drawn out and agonizing way.

"Roundup is like a slow lifetime death sentence, 'cause that's what it does," said Ricky McCombs. "It takes your life slowly, little at a time."

McCombs said his spleen was the size of a football when doctors removed it. He used to weigh around 130 pounds but is now down to 95 pounds, explaining the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma makes him feel nauseous and unable to eat.

He said it all happened after he used Roundup to clear the weeds off his farm, mixing 200 to 300 gallons at a time in barrels, used with this industrial sprayer.  

"So after '93 spraying it, '94 spraying it, I know I developed cancer in '95, and '96 is when I was diagnosed," McCombs said.

We asked if there was any doubt in his mind that Roundup was the cause.

"There's no doubt, and I was so healthy even my doctor said I, whenever I was first seeing him, that I was the healthiest person he had ever seen with cancer," he replied. 

The main ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, was placed on a list of cancer-causing chemicals by the State of California in 2017. And on May 14, a California couple won their lawsuit against Monsanto and its parent company Bayer, making the $2 billion settlement the 8th largest settlement in U.S. history.

Currently, there are more than 11,000 pending lawsuits against the makers of Roundup, but to this day, only three plantiffs have been awarded a settlement. 

"I haven't had not one good year. I've had to go through some kind of treatments every year, either chemo or IVIG," McCombs said.

"Or surgery," his wife added.

"I'm just tired," McCombs said, while he broke down sobbing.

With doctors telling him his life is coming to an end, he and his wife worry that he may never see his case go to trial. He wants the peace to know his family will be taken care of.

"It's like he's just whittling away from me and it makes me feel hopeless and helpless. The ones you love, you want to help, but there's nothing I can do," said Lucy. "I've done everything I could possibly do to help this man get better."

"All I'd like to say is, to Monsanto, is take responsibility, label it carcinogenic, maybe other people won't get sick," said Ricky McCombs. "But I know Roundup is what caused my cancer." 

Reports say Monsanto, which merged with Bayer, plans on appealing last week's $2 billion ruling, and the company is hanging its hat on the Environmental Protection Agency's conclusions that glyphosate is not a carcinogen

The I-TEAM has reached out to McCombs' lawyers about the status of his lawsuit, and we will update this story when we hear back.

About the Authors:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.