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NYPD officer from LI fights crime while battling cancer

NYPD Officer Ross Dichter, who was diagnosed with a 9/11-related cancer, told Newsday on Jan. 14 that despite his illness he has never taken a sick day and does crime analysis for his command even when he is getting chemotherapy. Credit: Johnny Milano

Twenty-year NYPD veteran officer Ross Dichter has a remarkable record going on: The Long Island resident and married father of three has never taken a sick day.

Fellow officers say such a record is unusual for someone in Ross’ condition. Since February, Dichter has been battling a variety of cancers, yet he has continued to work nonstop.

“It helps the time go by and it also helps me, it keeps my mind going and not thinking about what is going on then and there,” says Dichter, 45, who lives with his wife, Karen, and their children in Lynbrook.

Dichter, who had been an officer for about two years on Sept. 11, 2001, rushed to work at Ground Zero. While it took years for the cancer to manifest itself, Dichter is now part of the 9/11 health registry, a department spokesman said.

Despite rounds of surgeries, chemotherapy and days when he is too tired to even take out the garbage, Dichter has continued to work as a crime analyst for the NYPD office of crime strategies, focusing on incidents in Manhattan’s 20th Precinct in the Upper West Side. He spots crime patterns, informs specialized police units about problems in the area and makes sure crime incidents are classified properly.

“The hardest-working cop I have ever seen,” said deputy inspector Timothy J. Malin, commander of the 20th Precinct, about Dichter. “He is the most dedicated cop I have ever come across … smart, funny, loves the Upper West Side.”

NYPD Assistant Chief Thomas Conforti said Dichter’s arrangement to work from home is unique for a person in his situation. “It shows a tremendous amount of dedication and perseverance to his job,” Conforti said.

Dichter does the work even though with 20 years under his belt he could retire tomorrow and spend time with Karen and their three children: Michael, 15, Emma, 13, and Benjamin, 9. Born and bred in Lynbrook, Dichter said he met his wife at Lynbrook High School.

The cancer diagnosis came after Dichter noticed a bothersome spot on his tongue that turned out to be a cancerous lesion.

“It was a very painful, big, open sore,” Dichter remembered during an interview at his home.

A series of surgeries showed the malignancy had spread to his neck, jugular vein and then to his lungs. Rounds of chemotherapy followed. Surgeons removed one jugular vein but stressed that the procedure wouldn’t impact his life. Tongue cancers, like Dichter’s, have been considered covered under the World Trade Center Health Program.

NYPD officials say Dichter reached the 20-year mark without taking a sick day because he used personal time to have his first surgery in March, when part of his tongue was removed. But after it became necessary for Dichter to have more surgeries and chemotherapy, NYPD officials essentially told him to stay home — because of concerns that his his immune system might be too compromised and subject him to infection — but that he then decided to continue working from Lynbrook. 

With the help of a secure laptop with a special link to the NYPD, Dichter is able to work from home and even takes his laptop with him to the hospital when he is enduring eight-hour chemotherapy sessions.

“He is especially good at training new police officers, when it comes to the quality of reports that they create,” Malin said.

Dichter is also a driving force in the work he does, his boss says.

“He is emailing me 24/7, looking at every report, asking ‘what do you think about this, what do you think about that?’ ” Malin said. “I have never heard of this. He is the best.”

Dichter was diagnosed some 18 years after his Ground Zero work. As a result, he wants all those who worked on Sept. 11 to take their health seriously.

“Everyone who worked down there, even though it is 18 years later, there are people who are being diagnosed, illnesses are coming up, you should definitely be part of the 9/11 screening,” Dichter stressed.

Before he was diagnosed with cancer, Dichter said he would sometimes think about staying home and taking a sick day. But his children would urge him to go to work so that someday he would earn recognition for good attendance, he says.

An NYPD spokesman said that Dichter, who passed the 20-year mark last July, would be among a select group to next be honored for not taking sick days.

Dichter’s children are well aware of their father’s condition and were prepared for the changes they would see. The effects of chemotherapy have led to a loss of hair for Dichter and gave him a ruddy complexion. Dichter said he is hit by bouts of fatigue. 

During a visit to a home furnishings store, Karen Dichter, a special education teacher, picked up a couple of wall plaques that illustrate the family resolve. One defined her husband’s name as being synonymous with the term “warrior.” The other plaque begins with the sentence, “In this house we do Cancer” and ends with “We Don’t Go Down Without a Fight.”

Meanwhile, Dichter continues to work. “It keeps my mind fresh, keeps me active, keeps me involved," he says. "Just because I got sick doesn’t mean I am going to stop everything.”

CORRECTION: NYPD Office Ross Dichter, who is ill with a September 11-related cancer, is working from home on his own volition.  An earlier version of the digital story incorrectly stated that the department ordered him to work from his residence.

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