Sick, and hoping cancer gets on 9/11 list

From left: Firefighter Ray Pfeifer shares an emotional From left: Firefighter Ray Pfeifer shares an emotional greeting with his friend Army Lieutenant Colonel Reid Sawyer, at a fundraiser. Family, friends, and firefighters from Manhattan, Long Island, as well as a handful from around the country gathered in East Meadow Saturday to raise money for their friend Ray Pfeifer, an ex-captain of the East Meadow Fire Department, and 26-year-member of FDNY Engine Co. 40, and Ladder Co. 35. Pfeifer, a 9/11 first responder, is suffering from advanced stage cancer and other illnesses caused by his work on the September 11, 2001 rescue operation. (March 28, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Danielle Finkelstein

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Ray Pfiefer didn't want to be the center of attention Saturday.

The 26-year FDNY veteran and East Meadow volunteer firefighter from Hicksville, who worked eight months at Ground Zero after Sept. 11, is more used to taking care of others' needs.

But nine years after the 2001 attacks, Pfiefer, 54, was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer that had spread to his bones. Doctors removed his femur, hip and a kidney, but now there are inoperable tumors in his shoulder.

Ongoing chemotherapy and other treatment is costly and no longer covered by insurance, his family said.

"Ray finds this very difficult," his sister Maryellen McKee said as thousands of dollars in donated raffle prizes were on display beneath party tents for a fundraiser organized by colleagues, friends and family at the East Meadow Firefighters Benevolent Hall.

"Ray does this sort of thing for others . . . for people to do this for him, he's not built that way," McKee said.

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Family and friends hope Pfiefer's treatment will soon be paid for by the federal government if an administrator adds his cancer to an official list of Sept. 11-related medical conditions.

This week, an advisory committee will formally recommend more than 45 cancers, including kidney, be added to the list so that responders suffering from them can qualify for free health care and compensation. The deadline for a final decision is June 2.

Some -- Pfiefer's friends, family and 9/11 advocates included -- say it's disgusting it has taken so long. "This is a prime example of members of the 9/11 community, the FDNY and friends and family picking up the slack where Zadroga is lacking," said Kenny Specht, 43, a friend of Pfiefer's who attended the fundraiser and was a key advocate for passage of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act in 2010.

A former FDNY firefighter who worked at Ground Zero, Specht said 9/11 cancer sufferers hope the federal administrator of the health care program, Dr. John Howard, will view the latest medical research as sufficient evidence to add cancers that many are now suffering to the list.

"Zadroga needs to continue to be reformed to include these life-threatening diseases that are killing Sept. 11 first responders," said Specht, formerly of Levittown, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

A study conducted in the seven years after Sept. 11 showed firefighters working at the site had 19 percent more cancers than those not involved. Two more key scientific studies are due before Howard's June 2 deadline.

As hundreds of well-wishers milled about buying raffle tickets Saturday, an embarrassed Pfiefer reflected on the morning's chemo session and how lucky he was to still be alive.

"It never was about me," Pfiefer said. "I was one of many thousands that worked on the pile, then in the pit and now we're still waiting to prove that's where my cancer comes from? . . . I would like to see the government step up and do the right thing so we don't have to fund-raise for our treatments."

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