After being ignored for two decades, cancers of the uterus are expected to be added to a list of 9/11-related health conditions – bringing a measure of equality to the women who breathed the toxic soup that hung over Ground Zero.
But the news did little to comfort Con Edison retiree Cheryl Hall, who worked at Ground Zero in the weeks following the terror attacks and had to pay for her uterine cancer surgery last month without any federal assistance.
“It really is a man’s world,” Hall, a mother of six, told the Daily News. “If males got uterine cancer, it would be on the top of the list of 9/11 illnesses.”
Hall, a general utility worker for Con Edison, spent 17 days at Ground Zero restoring power to Lower Manhattan in the weeks following the terror attacks.
“I just thank God that I kept my mask on as long as I did,” Hall, 56, said, recalling her time at Ground Zero. “You could smell the burnt flesh, but what always sticks in my mind was the tree outside of Trinity Church, there were shoes, computer paper and clothing all over it.
“We were there for mandatory 12 hour shifts,” she added. “I would have kept my masks on longer, but you would have to take it off to eat lunch.”
The Far Rockaway native, who now lives in Pennsylvania, was already enrolled in the WTC Health Program and was getting federal aid for gastroesophageal reflux disease, PTSD and asthma – conditions linked to her time at Ground Zero.
But when she had to undergo surgery to remove a cancerous growth found on the wall of her uterus on April 18, she was told she was not going to get any federal assistance, even though all her doctors believed the cancer was 9/11 related .
“I was praying and asking god that it was contained to one area and thankfully it was,” Hall said. “They said it was just stage one, so they caught it early.”
Members of New York’s congressional delegation – including Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Yvette Clarke and Nydia Velázquez – have repeatedly petitioned the WTC Health Program to put cancers of the uterus on the 9/11 illness list.
While women made up only a small percentage of 9/11 first responders, many women either lived near the World Trade Center or, like Hall, helped in recovery efforts after the Towers fell and breathed the same toxic air, the legislators said.
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
“We have concerns that current programs may not properly meet the unique health needs of those brave women,” they wrote in a letter to Howard in August 2021. Given that exposure contributes to cancer throughout the reproductive system, it seems likely that it could also contribute to cancer in the uterus. ”
The federal WTC Health Program proposed adding cancers of the uterus to its list of health conditions on May 10. The proposal is currently undergoing a 45-day public review period, but if no objections are raised, the condition could be added to the list in mid-June, federal officials said.
If the addition is approved, women who worked as responders at Ground Zero and those who lived or worked nearby going forward will receive full coverage from the WTC Health Program for uterine cancer treatments. Those who have developed a cancer related to the uterus will also be able to seek compensation from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
The proposal “is the next step towards ensuring women who are enrolled in the WTC Health Program have access to the cancer care and treatment they need,” said John Howard, a doctor who administers the WTC Health Program and is director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
As she waits for the WTC Health Program to update its list, Hall’s recuperation has been slow and has left her exhausted. But she’s glad that someday soon she can get some compensation for what she went through.
“I’m not going to let this get me down,” she said. “I hope people can learn from my stories and from other women who’ve had this.
“I wouldn’t give up being a woman for anything but we should all have the same ride when it comes to our health,” she said.