Bill Potvin, manager for DTE Gas Operations, knew something was wrong when a small scab on his ear wouldn’t stop bleeding. He initially thought he may have nicked himself while shaving but it turned out he had skin cancer.
Similarly, Potvin’s DTE Gas colleague Heath Barton originally dismissed a small patch of rough skin that felt like sandpaper on his shoulder as a minor irritation. It could have eventually become fatal because he too had skin cancer.
Potvin and Barton were afflicted with basal cell carcinoma – the most frequently occurring form of all cancers with more than 4 million cases a year in the United States, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. It’s highly curable if detected early.
Neither men would be considered high risk for skin cancer. There was no family history nor did they frequent tanning salons or spend a lot of time sunbathing.
Their riskiest activity was simply being outside. Potvin and Barton share a love of golf and have other outdoor hobbies. They also spend a lot of time outside as DTE Gas employees.
“I spend a lot of time outdoors and driving so I get a lot of sun exposure, especially to the left/driver side of my body,” Potvin said.
It was the increased exposure to Potvin’s left side that proved to be troublesome. His left ear is the one on which he discovered the cancer spot that was surgically removed.
“The doctors had to reconstruct my ear after they removed diseased tissue so it would match the other ear,” Potvin said. He joked he “had to quit being an ear model after that because his ears are noticeably different and are not the same size.”
Barton also found most of his cancer spots on his left side. It’s where he spotted the problematic rough patch on his shoulder. Plus, he had 12 or so other marks, which were precancerous growths called actinic keratoses that were promptly removed.
While both men were successfully treated and enjoy a clean bill of health, avoiding recurrences will be a lifelong focus. They will frequently visit dermatologists to make sure any suspect spots are treated early. Wide-brim hats and long sleeve shirts have become standard parts of their wardrobes and shorts are rarely worn. Potvin and Barton are seldom far from a bottle of sunscreen with a minimum of 50 SPF.
They are sharing their stories in hopes that more people will proactively screen for skin cancer as well as take steps to minimize effects from the sun’s harmful rays. In Barton’s case, it’s already reaping results with his co-workers.
“The day after I came back to work after having surgery, a co-worker asked me questions about a spot he was concerned about,” Barton said. “His general doctor said it was fine but he insisted on seeing a dermatologist who diagnosed it as basal cell carcinoma and performed surgery. Thankfully he caught it in time.”