Cancer Connection to 9/11 Dust Is No Surprise

When the doctor diagnosed me with kidney cancer, it was no surprise

Sept. 11, 2012— -- When the doctor diagnosed me with kidney cancer this past spring, I wasn't surprised, not one bit. I had known it was coming for nearly 11 years.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I watched from my living room window as terrorists drove the second plane into the south tower of the World Trade Center. I will never forget how the plane disintegrated into the side of the building and then shortly after, tiny dots began shooting outward into the sky. Those dots were people falling and jumping from the top floors and as I looked closer, I could make out skirts and ties flying up over their heads and shoes slipping from their feet.

I felt I had to do something.

I ran out of my apartment and down the street until I saw an ambulance and some EMTs. When I offered to help, an EMT simply handed me a pair of latex gloves and told me to start assessing the condition of people sitting and lying on the ground.

Just as I was helping a woman named Linda who was having trouble breathing into the ambulance, one of the EMTs abruptly grabbed my arm. Without explanation, he hauled me up the street and threw me against the side of a building. I didn't have time to think about what was happening. Then everything went black.

Suddenly, all the air was gone. In its place was a black, viscous solid. It was so thick I couldn't pull it into my lungs. It was like trying to breathe underwater. After a few desperate seconds I thought to peel off one of my latex gloves, place it over my mouth and hyperventilate into it.

Eventually the EMT and I felt our way along the buildings, broke into a card shop and were able to find better air.

Over the years I've thought a lot about that black sludge. I realized immediately it would be a problem. When I reunited with my husband several hours after the attacks and we walked out of lower Manhattan, I remember telling him that this would come back and bite me in the ass someday. Even then, I was sure of it.

So despite living a healthy lifestyle and have no family history, the cancer diagnosis was not unexpected. I didn't know when it would come but I knew that it would.

For me, the decision by the World Trade Center Health Program to add 50 cancers to the list of illnesses that can now receive treatment and compensation from the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was a foregone conclusion.

I didn't need any science or a legal ruling to tell me the cloud of black dust I breathed in that day was toxic. Anyone who was there will tell you that you could taste the cocktail of glass, asbestos, cement, lead, gypsum, calcium carbonate, metal particles and other toxins.

That doesn't mean I'm not happy to have some financial help for the stacks of medical bills -- I've already got a lawyer working on my claim. And I'm certainly grateful my illness was caught early and that it was easily treatable.

But I didn't need this latest decision to help explain why I got cancer. I never had any doubt about the cause.