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Crusade against cancer

February 1, 2008 By    

Bill Powers is one of the lucky ones. Ten years ago this month, the 44-year-old was transitioning from his duties as president and CEO of Star Gas Partners to overseeing the heating oil division of its parent company, Petro, the largest heating oil retailer in the nation.

Patrick Hyland
Patrick Hyland

As part of the job change, Powers heeded his prodding wife to have a routine physical. The doctor visit included the notorious digital rectal exam – the thought of which makes even the burliest of men squeamish. The procedure found a nodule on his gland even though a subsequent blood test failed to detect protein levels that normally signal trouble. A biopsy confirmed that the young, successful and otherwise healthy Powers had cancer.

Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in the United States, and is second only to lung cancer as the primary cause of cancer death in men. One of every six men will develop it in his lifetime. Golf legend Arnold Palmer, longtime Yankee Manager Joe Torre, U.S. Senators Bob Dole and John Kerry and recently deceased entertainer Robert Goulet are among its most recognized victims. Another 232,000 men will be diagnosed this year, and more than 30,000 will die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

Bill Powers
Bill Powers

“I knew a few guys at Petro who had prostate cancer that I immediately called for information, commiseration and comfort,” Powers recalls. “One guy was 60, another 63, another 56.”

Powers spent the next month studying the disease, treatment options, hospitals and physicians. His three-hour surgery hospitalized him four days. Within six weeks he was back to a full workout regimen and workload, although it was months before he considered himself returned to normal.

Today, Heritage Propane‘s senior vice president and chief operating officer for the Eastern United States is cancer-free and determined to spread awareness about a disease that almost 2 million American men fight valiantly each day.

Ed Varney
Ed Varney

His message is solemn. Men are 33 percent more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than women are to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Just one in 10,000 under age 40 will be diagnosed, but the rate shoots up to one in 39 for ages 40 to 59, and one in 14 for ages 60 to 69.

But there also is good news. Like Powers, more than 90 percent of prostate cancer patients are diagnosed in the earliest stages, when the long-term survival rate nears 100 percent. Better detection, better monitoring and better treatments have lowered the mortality rate since its peak in 1993.

Encouraging more men to get tested is a mission Powers shares in his home community of Queensbury, N.Y., and within the nation’s third-largest propane retail company. Now, he is targeting the propane industry as a whole, which represents more than 56,000 mostly male employees who could suddenly find themselves in the same life-threatening battle that he has survived.

Powers, Ed Varney at Fisher Controls and I are working with the Prostate Cancer Foundation to address that. We have formed a new group to help raise awareness, promote early detection and find a cure for the disease among our industry brethren. We are calling the group PROS4CARE, which is short for Propane Professionals Promoting Prostate Care. We intend to sponsor educational efforts and screenings at industry events and raise funds through special events (golf outings, wrist band/pin promotions, company and/or individual sponsorships).

You will be hearing more about these activities in the upcoming months. In the meantime, we encourage all propane industry members to learn more by visiting the Web site

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