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The Cancers Left Out in the Cold

October 29, 2013 | Michael Barasch

Now that prostate cancer has been added to the list of illnesses covered by the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, those afflicted with cancers not yet recognized as 9/11-related may feel a renewed hope that their form of cancer may follow suit.

Unfortunately, for some forms of cancer, even if that recognition comes, it is likely to come too late. Pancreatic cancer, in particular, usually cannot be detected until it is in an advanced state and tends to spread rapidly even after detected, making it one of the most deadly forms of the disease.

On the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a woman who lost her firefighter fiancé in the disaster turned her attention from mourning her loved one to frustration over the pancreatic cancer of a beloved friend and advocate. Tanya Villanueva Tepper published a heartbreaking story of New York firefighter Captain John Graziano, a member of the fire company to which her fiancé belonged. Graziano, she said, was a rock of support for her and other grieving families of the lost men during the weeks, months and years following the attacks, even as he spent countless hours himself working on the rescue and recovery effort at Ground Zero.

Now, she said, Graziano has been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer, despite years of regular screenings by the WTC Health Program. The program performs medical monitoring for responders and survivors, but only provides treatment if they develop an illness recognized as 9/11-related, such as:

  • Musculoskeletal injuries
  • Asthma and other respiratory disorders
  • Digestive disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Secondary conditions related to covered illnesses

So if Captain Graziano had developed, for example, carpal tunnel syndrome or chronic acid reflux, he might have been eligible for free healthcare. But pancreatic cancer: no.

Tanya Villanueva Tepper expressed anger and despair over the situation, but holds on to her hope that efforts to add pancreatic cancer to the 9/11 list might be successful — and that her friend Captain Graziano can hang in there long enough to reap the benefits.

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