9/11 sur­vivors, re­spon­ders de­velop rare cancers

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY LAURA KELLY

When John Mor­mando was told about his breast cancer di­ag­no­sis in March, he con­fided in friends about his shock. Af­ter all, less than 1 per­cent of cases de­velop in men.

He didn’t ex­pect to hear that his col­leagues from the New York Mer­can­tile Ex­change, where they re­turned to work shortly af­ter the ter­ror­ist at­tacks on Sept. 11, 2001, also were suffering from cancer.

“We had no idea that years later we would be af­fected by what was go­ing on down there, but we went to work ev­ery day,” said Mr. Mor­mando, 51.

Dis­eases and other phys­i­cal mal­adies can take years, some­times decades, to de­velop with no­tice­able symp­toms, mean­ing 9/11 sur­vivors and first re­spon­ders such as Mr. Mor­mando face un­cer­tainty about their health.

The World Trade Cen­ter Health Pro­gram was set up in 2011 to pro­vide com­plete health care cov­er­age for re­spon­ders and sur­vivors of the at­tacks in New York City, Pennsylvania and the Pen­tagon.

In April, re­searchers with the pro­gram pub­lished a study of 14,474 New York Fire Depart­ment em­ploy­ees ex­posed to the World Trade Cen­ter site who were cancer-free on Jan. 1, 2012. Re­searchers es­ti­mated that nearly 3,000 cancer cases could de­velop in the par­tic­i­pants by 2031.

Mr. Mor­mando ini­tially didn’t link his di­ag­no­sis to the tragedy 17 years ago. A friend of his had reg­is­tered with the World Trade Cen­ter Health Pro­gram and the Vic­tim Com­pen­sa­tion Fund through the law firm Barasch & McGarry and sug­gested that Mr. Mor­mando do the same. “I had no idea about it,” he said.

Michael Barasch, a part­ner at Barasch & McGarry, rep­re­sents 20 men with breast cancer — a mix of first re­spon­ders, con­struc­tion work­ers, of­fice staff and at least one stu­dent.

About 1 in 1,000 men will ever de­velop breast cancer.

“Most peo­ple are shocked that there’s this pre­sump­tion link­ing male breast cancer, or frankly any of the 68 cancers,” to the at­tacks, Mr. Barasch said.

The health pro­gram cov­ers vari­ants of 13 types of cancer, in­clud­ing all child­hood cancers and 14 cases con­sid­ered to be rare, in­clud­ing male breast cancer. It has about 72,000 re­spon­ders and al­most 17,000 sur­vivors en­rolled.

Mr. Barasch said his firm rep­re­sents about 11,000 peo­ple who were af­fected by the at­tacks. Half of them have cancer.

“If they’ve moved away from New York City, if they’re now re­tired liv­ing in North Carolina or Florida, why in the world would they con­nect the dots to the cancer that was di­ag­nosed in 2008, 2011, 2015?” the lawyer said. “Most peo­ple don’t con­nect the dots.”

Jeff Flynn, 65, is a client of Mr. Barasch’s. His breast cancer was di­ag­nosed in 2011. He was in Man­hat­tan on the morn­ing of Sept. 11, 2001, and saw the two planes fly into the World Trade Cen­ter tow­ers.

“Al­though we didn’t die in the trade cen­ter that day, there are still many of us that are pass­ing away from disease due to the tox­ins that we breathed down­town,” he said.

An ac­count man­ager for a tech com­pany con­tract­ing with Gold­man Sachs, Mr. Flynn went back to work a week af­ter the at­tacks and trav­eled all over down­town for a few months. He dis­cov­ered a lump on his chest nearly a decade later but was re­luc­tant to have a doc­tor check it. Af­ter his wife no­ticed one of his nip­ples had be­come in­verted, he went in for a checkup.

“I never even heard of male breast cancer,” he said. “Three days later, I got the dreaded phone call that, ‘Yes, you have breast cancer.’”

He soon started reg­is­ter­ing with the World Trade Cen­ter Health Pro­gram and the Vic­tim Com­pen­sa­tion Fund. “You have to see many doc­tors, and you have to have proof that you were ac­tu­ally in the area. They want a num­ber of wit­nesses that can place you down there. It’s not been a sim­ple task to get this done,” Mr. Flynn said.

He still en­cour­ages any­one who was in the area dur­ing or in the af­ter­math of the at­tacks to reg­is­ter.

PHO­TO­GRAPH PRO­VIDED BY JEFF FLYNN

Jeff Flynn spent months in Man­hat­tan af­ter at­tacks on the World Trade Cen­ter. He was found to be among the less than 1 per­cent of men to have breast cancer.

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