Cancer survivor and retired NYPD Officer Ron Pechtol has no regrets about being a cop even though it exposed him to the toxic smoke and smoldering fires of the 9/11 pile at the World Trade Center.
"I worked there long enough to get sick," said Pechtol, 52, of Albertson, who retired in 2006. "It was a wonderful career and a wonderful life."
Pechtol, diagnosed in 2012 with multiple myeloma, which he believes resulted from his work at Ground Zero, will return Thursday to what is now a gleaming office tower. He'll be among more than 700 climbers in an ascent to the top of the 72-floor 4 World Trade Center to raise money for cancer research.
"What can be more appropriate than to do this race to raise money . . . at the World Trade Center -- a place that is sentimental for me and has meaning," Pechtol said. "It is where innocent lives were lost and where World Trade Center workers became sick and died of cancer. This is in their memory."
The Manhattan-based Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation is sponsoring the event and has so far raised $119,000. Money raised from the stair climb will go to young scientists whose research shows promise in finding cures for cancer.
Pechtol's detail at Ground Zero was to escort families onto the Ground Zero pile. From there, they would stand on a ramp on Vesey and Church streets to view the devastation and pay their respects to loved ones lost.
Pechtol said he'd hold their hands, embrace them and offer comfort and understanding.
"It was the best part of my career," Pechtol said.
It's those memories of the days and weeks after the attacks that will motivate Pechtol when he starts his climb. Some climbers will have the option to ride the elevator to the top or stop at the 54th floor to use the elevator. Pechtol, whose bone-marrow-based cancer affects antibody-producing white blood cells, has vowed to finish the climb unassisted.
He will have plenty of company from others living with cancer and motivated by what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.
Cancer survivor John Theissen, 43, of Wantagh, said he is ready to finish the race among the top tier. He has climbed to the top of the Empire State Building, the Willis Tower in Chicago and Rockefeller Center.
At 17, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor that was removed. He then underwent radiation treatment.
"I was given a second chance . . . I think I survived to help others." said Theissen, founder of the Wantagh-based John Theissen Children's Foundation, which raises money for families with sick children.
On the day of the climb, Theissen said he will be thinking about his friends, FDNY firefighter Timothy Shawn Haskell and FDNY Battalion Chief Thomas T. Haskell. Theissen attended Seaford High School with the Haskell brothers, who died in the Twin Towers.
"I'm running for them. They will be with me in spirit," Theissen said.