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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Ear tactics

The gruesome reality of melanoma and its treatment is revealed to ANGELA GREGORY.

“Scare the pants off them,”Bruce Dunsby implores as the Safeguard editor ponders the reaction she might get from readers if a photo of his severed and bloodied ear is published in the magazine.

Dunsby has supplied the photo among other graphic images of his treatment for melanoma. A contract electrician, Dunsby blames sunburn as a child and his years of outdoor work, unprotected from the sun, for the malignant tumours which developed in and around his right ear.

Now the 59-year-old wants others to sit up and notice and avoid the harrowing diagnoses and treatment he’s had to endure over the past two years.

While the tumours have been surgically removed, including cutting off his entire outer ear, he’s not out of the woods. Just recently more suspect shadows in the vicinity of the first tumour showed up in his neck on a CT scan, and need further investigation. “I’ll never be in the clear.”

If they turn out to be more tumours he has been warned the operation could damage nerves which would affect his speech.

Dunsby, from Pukekohe, had worked as an electrician for both himself and large organisations over the past 35 years, including four years at the former Franklin Electric Power Board where he worked outside.

They were not the days of sunblock and PPE – Dunsby also suffers from industrial deafness, which he believes arises from noisy work around pumps at the Huntly Power Station. “In those days ear muffs did not exist.” His hearing aids are paid for by ACC.

In late 2008 Dunsby first noticed a small mark on his ear that “sort of looked like a little prickle”. His doctor tried to remove it with dry ice “but it grew faster than the dry ice could stop it.”

Eventually a biopsy showed the growth was malignant and Dunsby was referred to the plastic surgery unit at Middlemore Hospital. “The ear was being eaten away. It stunk, it bled.”

In April 2009 a plastic surgeon lopped off about 8mm off the top of Dunsby’s ear. When he went back to have the sutures removed, the surgeon realised he had not succeeded in removing all the cancerous growth. And meanwhile a large growth had popped up behind Dunsby’s ear, in just 12 days.

“The upshot of it was not only did I have cancer on my ear, plus the tumour at the back of the ear, but I also had enlarged glands in my neck which also had to be removed.”

He recalls the surgeon warning him that after the further operation there wouldn’t be much of his ear left. “I said just take if off.”

Dunsby was again operated on, with a large skin graft taken form the top of his leg and placed where his ear had been. This was followed by 30 treatments of radiation therapy at Auckland Hospital, a long distance from his rural home. “That was a shock to my system. I hit a block wall after the first week and decided that I was not gong back.”

But after a break Dunsby agreed to resume the treatment. He also has to attend a dental clinic at Greenlane Hospital every week to get mouth washes to keep his mouth free of infection. The radiation being beamed into his neck caused his gums to shrink and opened them up to the risk of infection.

“I must admit that the care, attention and support given by the various departments that were involved was really amazing and I appreciated very bit of it.”

A side effect from the radiation was that Dunphy slept nearly 18 hours a day, along with the unpleasantness of a continuous course of antibiotics. “It took about six months for me to start to feel normal again.”

In 2010 a new tumour with malignant cells was found near his operation scar and had to be removed along with small cancerous growths from his face.

Now Dunphy’s energies have turned to trying to educate others to avoid what he has had to go through. “I just want to get the word out … if people don’t take heed they can’t say weren’t warned.”

He has had a write-up in the newsletter of the Electrical Contractors Association of New Zealand and hopes such articles will be shared by readers around their work-places. Acknowledging that large companies are these days much more proactive about preventative health and safety steps, he is particularly concerned that small operators somehow get the message.

As to the ear photo, the editor decided that publication might make readers fear ever opening Safeguard again. Hopefully the image of the tumour and the scarring from his operations will be enough of a wake-up call.

  • • 
    The Department of Labour recently issued a fact sheet on melanoma. It is available on its website:


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