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by Richard Alles, Deputy Chief FDNY, ret.

For the first responder community, the holiday season is bittersweet. We count our blessings, but the pain and loss we feel as we remember those who cannot be here with us is ever present. The especially difficult reality is that we continue to lose first responders and survivors in the 9/11 Community, primarily to cancer. Post 9/11, the FDNY has lost 226 members to WTC illness, and most of those are due to cancer. If there is one message we want spread as 2020 draws to a close, it is that we must be proactive when it comes to our health. When we know the facts about what we’re up against, we can take important steps to protect ourselves.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men after skin cancer. Unfortunately, prostate cancer typically produces no symptoms until it has metastasized. At that point the disease is no longer curable, only treatable. This makes it a silent killer. For this reason, regular prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening is of utmost importance for detecting prostate cancer while it is localized to the prostate. Fortunately, a PSA test is part of the FDNY WTC annual medical.

Unfortunately, however, a skin exam is not performed at the annual medical. But that doesn’t mean you should forego it. In fact, it’s tremendously important that you have regular skin checks, which is why our law firm always recommends this to anyone and everyone who will listen. Found early, skin cancer is almost always non-life threatening. Utilizing your private insurance or Medicare, please make an annual full body skin exam with a dermatologist part your yearly health screening routine. Those of us with prior skin cancers are usually on a bi-annual schedule. And if you need extra incentive, remember that skin cancer is compensable by the Victim Compensation Fund.

Another silent killer is pancreatic cancer. When symptoms do appear, they may mimic those caused by more minor conditions. Symptoms can include pain in the upper abdomen and back, nausea, vomiting, and unintended weight loss. Some experience a burning feeling in the stomach, inability to digest fatty foods which can result in large greasy stools and finally, jaundice of the skin or the whites of the eyes and itchiness which can be caused when a tumor blocks the common bile duct.

All of these cancers have been linked to 9/11 exposure and that is why it is essential that you get an annual medical exam with cancer screening. The statistics are alarming:

  • Cancer in the general population affects 38% of Americans,
  • Members of the 9/11 Community have an additional 19 to 32% greater risk on top of that,
  • Leukemia in the 9/11 Community puts us all at a 41% higher risk than the general population.

The purpose of this article is of course to remind you not to be an ostrich – don’t bury your head in the sand. See no evil/hear no evil is not an effective health strategy! Early detection is critically important to assure the best possible survival rate. The full cost of diagnosis, surgery, and treatment is covered by the WTC Health Program. As a reminder to our retirees – this program is national. Therefore, those of you who may now be relocated out of New York State should make sure to transfer to the national program in order to receive the same benefits and services as provided in New York. Over 70 cancers are now eligible for substantial compensation by the Victim Compensation Fund. Please feel free to contact me or any of our WTC lawyers to discuss your rights and benefits under the 9/11 Health & Compensation Act.

We wish all our clients and friends a joyous, and blessed holiday season and a safe, and most especially healthy New Year!

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