Cancer Claims 2 Metro Detroit Firefighters on the Same Day - FOX 35 News Orlando

Cancer Claims 2 Metro Detroit Firefighters on the Same Day

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Two metro Detroit communities are dealing with the loss of firefighters to cancer this week. Shelby Township lost its longtime fire chief, and Canton lost a seasoned veteran to melanoma.

"We're going to miss him dearly. We really are," said Canton Fire Captain Greg Sprys-Tellner.

"Never complained. I mean, you could see it when he was there. He was tired and weak, but he wanted to be there. He wanted to work," said Canton Fire Battalion Chief Mike Caruso.

"You don't find them better than Ryan, you really don't," said Canton firefighter Mike Thoms.

"Something simple as a spot is how it started out, and he went in and it just progressively got worse," said Canton Fire Chief Tim Dunn.

It started with a spot on his back and ended with the tragic death of 33-year-old Ryan Swick. He was Canton's firefighter of the year, a husband and father. His children are just one and three years old.

During his three years battling melanoma, he tried to educate others about skin cancer.

"They had shirts made up that said holy moly, stay out of the sun, stay in the shade. I mean, they even started handing out sunscreen and stuff like that," Thoms said.

Swick's death Monday night came the same night Shelby Township Fire Chief Gene Shepherd lost his battle with clear-cell sarcoma, a rare cancer that can come from melanoma.

We met with dermatologist Steve Grekin to learn more about this deadly disease.

"Melanoma is not the most common skin cancer, fortunately, but it's the most deadly, upwards of close to 10,000 deaths a year in the United States."

Greckin showed us a mole on a patient's foot. It was irregular -- the color, the borders, it was asymmetrical and puffy -- on its way to becoming melanoma.

Other skin cancers, carcinomas, are far more common and caused by exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays.

Here's the thing about skin cancer. No one is immune. People of color can get skin cancer, and Dr. Grekin says his youngest melanoma patient ever was a twelve-year-old girl.

"Everybody who's had one blistering sunburn in their life should have a full body skin exam once a year," he explained. "Early detection saves lives in skin cancer."

Greckin's patient Craig Johnson sure knows it. He has been cancer free for almost nine years. He went in to ask about something on his shoulder that his wife had noticed, but they found a mole on his back that was malignant.

"I just said it can't be any big deal, but Dr. Grekin and Jan at the time told me there was an angel on your shoulder when you came in here today, and I was very fortunate, very lucky."

"The statistics are shocking. The disease is real, and it's preventable with early detection," Grekin said.

It's a lesson the Canton firefighters will carry with them always and share with others. Always use your sunscreen. Stay away from tanning beds. Check your skin regularly and get to the doctor right away if you spot something unusual.

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Funeral Information:

Visitation for Ryan Swick will be Monday, May 21 from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. at Connection Church, 3855 South Sheldon Road in Canton. A service will follow at the church at 11:30 a.m. The family is asking donations be made to the Canton Firefighters Charity Foundation (C.F.F.C.F.)  Click here for more information on making donations »

Visitation for Chief Gene Shepherd will be Saturday, May 19 from 3:00 to 9:00 p.m. and Sunday, May 20 from 1:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Wujek-Calcaterra Funeral Home at 54880 Van Dyke in Shelby Township. His funeral will be Monday, May 21 at 11:00 a.m. at the Cornerstone Baptist Church at 17017 Twelve Mile Road in Roseville.

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