Joseph Landolfi said he believes Long Island's WTC monitoring group saved his life.
For 18 months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Landolfi worked daily 12-hour shifts as he and other sanitation department workers sifted through Ground Zero debris at Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, searching for victims' remains.
Landolfi, 55, had health issues even before Sept. 11 -- diabetes, and high blood pressure. He was overweight. But after Sept. 11, as he entered the site each day, he said he would get a cough, a headache, a metallic taste in his mouth and a post nasal drip.
The long hours were his way of trying to bring some comfort to families who had lost loved ones. "We wanted people to have closure, even in our little way," he said.
But the work took its toll. After retiring on disability in 2004 because of bad knees -- injured in unrelated accidents -- and moving to Florida, Landolfi said his health began to deteriorate. He began to feel weak, had trouble breathing and sleeping and suffered panic attacks.
It wasn't until October 2009, while visiting his sister in West Islip, that he decided to seek help at the Long Island World Trade Center program site in Islandia. He said by that point he felt so weak he could barely walk from the door to his car and his blood pressure kept dropping.
After an initial evaluation, he was sent immediately to Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip where he was given two pints of blood because he was so anemic. He was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer -- the cause of his anemia. His doctor told him to take care of his family affairs. "I had resigned myself that I was going to die," he said.
But the tumor was successfully removed, he underwent radiation treatment and the colon cancer has not returned.
In January, Landolfi returned to Long Island for tests at Stony Brook University Medical Center, which found a second type of cancer -- this one of the thyroid. He now faces a second surgery.
Dr. Benjamin Luft, director of the Long Island program, said it was not possible to say what caused his cancers. "However, the exposure experienced by responders at Fresh Kills as well as at the World Trade Center site for a prolonged time are worrisome," he said.
Landolfi hopes that the newly reopened victims compensation fund will eventually include cancers.
But mostly he is grateful to the World Trade Center program and baffled by his deteriorating health. "It is upsetting, all these cancers," he said. "I'm asking how does this happen?"