The man pointed to his head, telling Ben Hammond that if he hadn't shaved his head to help raise funds for cancer, he would not have discovered that he had cancer himself.
Hammond, now group health & safety manager for United Industries Limited (UIL), was then working for a different employer and had organised a head-shaving challenge to raise funds for the Cancer Society.
He admits to being shaken when one of the staff involved went for a routine check – and discovered he had cancer of the skull: "He told me that, if he hadn't shaved his head, they wouldn't have found it early."
The man recovered after treatment – but the brush with the killer disease (and the success of his first fundraising efforts) led Hammond to approach it with even more enthusiasm and purpose this year.
So far he and his workmates at United – a diverse group of about a dozen companies ranging from Knobs & Knockers to United Steel and Akarana Timber – have raised $22,285 in donations, including the UIL group matching money raised through various activities, including head shaving.
The Cancer Society annual appeal (Daffodil Day) also depends on such activity – ordinary New Zealanders getting out there and raising the millions of dollars the society needs to support those diagnosed with cancer, which kills 9500 people in New Zealand every year.
It affects one in three Kiwis and more than 23,000 are newly diagnosed every year.
The society provides accommodation close to all major hospitals, last year providing 49,000 bed nights and using 1145 volunteer drivers to take 4700 patients to and from treatment, covering over 1.1 million km.
But Hammond – a former elite rower who went to the London Olympics as part of a development programme in 2012 – says the fundraising isn't just a one-off cash drive. It has penetrated the workforce's mindset.
"What's happened is that we have encouraged people to tell their story," Hammond says. "The fact that cancer affects so many people is borne out by nearly everyone knowing someone – mother, father, wife, grandfather, son, aunt, uncle, whatever –who have been affected.
"So when we asked our people to tell their stories about them or their loved ones, it had some real power. Our people started talking about it – and that's why it is important to talk about cancer at work. From that, we came to know that early detection lifts the survival rate, how to recognise some of the early signs and the value of regular check-ups.
Hammond says that focus on health has percolated through United's workforce – to the extent that some have stopped smoking, have cut down on alcohol, are eating more healthily and even apply sunscreen with purpose in summer. They have applied the same sort of care to work safety – with the UIL injury rate now down.
"I send out regular messages and infographics advising how many deaths are caused by smoking in New Zealand, how obesity is a cause of cancer, how our melanoma rates are the highest in the world. "
"Part of what I do is to communicate why we are doing some of these health and safety things as a company – and in doing that re cancer, we tapped into a feeling that it would be good to do something about it."
And they are - $22,285 is not to be sneezed at and there is still plenty of time to swell the pot before Daffodil Day on August 31.
UIL's shaved head efforts include sharing the stories of their staff on UIL's version of the Brave The Shave website – and many are then shared across various forms of social media, turning up the donations volume.
# People can make Daffodil Day donations by giving to street collectors on August 31, at any ANZ branch or online at daffodilday.org.nz