9/11 caused melanoma of the skin (and non-melanoma skin cancers) in thousands of people. The most recent study from the World Trade Center Health Program reports 985 certified cases of melanoma in first responders and 286 cases in the survivors (downtown residents, workers, and students). The number of certified cases of non-melanoma of the skin cancer is more alarming: 4,494 certified diagnosed cases in first responders, and 843 certified cases in downtown workers, residents, and students,
Many of the Americans affected by the terrorist attacks of 9/11 did not discover just how deep the impact ran until years later. Diagnoses of cancer, lung disorders, and skin problems have affected hundreds of the volunteers who helped at Ground Zero or the residents of Lower Manhattan, who lived in the dust cloud for many months while workers removed debris from the scene.
Among those conditions, many have faced melanoma diagnoses. Melanoma, a type of skin cancer, can cause life-threatening problems for many victims, especially if left untreated.
Survivors and first responders of the September 11th terrorist attacks, however, can get free healthcare for melanoma (and over 70 different other cancers) through the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) plus a cash payment from the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). Under these twin 9/11 programs, a competent 9/11 attorney can establish that a melanoma stems from exposure to the toxic air that hung over lower Manhattan on and during the months after 9/11. There is, however, lots of complicated paperwork and procedural hurdles to get benefits.
An experienced 9/11 lawyer can help you successfully apply for those programs and ensure the WTCHP pays for all of the treatments you need plus get a tax-free award from the VCF.
Signs of Melanoma
Melanoma, which begins in the pigment-producing cells of the skin, often begins with notable changes in a mole. Normal moles typically have a uniform color and shape. Moles that show signs of melanoma, on the other hand, often have an irregular shape and may contain more than one color.
Doctors recommend staying on the lookout for moles that could indicate melanoma by checking your ABCs:
- Asymmetrical shape
- Irregular border, especially one that seems scalloped or wavy
- Changes in color, including more than one color in the mole
- Diameter, or the size of the mole, especially if it grows rapidly or exceeds around 1/4 inch
- Evolving, or changing dramatically within a relatively short time
In general, any time a mole changes dramatically or does not match other moles on the body, a patient should see a doctor to determine whether that mole has any unusual characteristics or indicates cancer, including melanoma. As the most serious type of skin cancer, melanoma requires early treatment to increase the odds of a satisfactory outcome as much as possible.
Melanoma Does Not Always Occur in a Mole
While an irregular mole offers the most obvious, and frequently the most familiar, sign of melanoma, melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin. Any time you notice changes in pigment or irregular growths on your skin, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible to rule out melanoma and other related skin cancers.
Most often, if you have a suspicious-looking mole or other changes in skin pigmentation, doctors will start by conducting a biopsy. Doctors usually recommend removing the entire mole to conduct a check, since this method will help prevent it from spreading further and may prevent the need for further immediate treatment. Usually, doctors use either a punch biopsy or a scalpel method to remove the entire mole and some of the healthy tissue around it, ensuring that they have managed to remove the entire mole.
Treatment for Melanoma
Treatment for melanoma can come in one of several forms. First, it requires the removal of the affected area of the skin. Next, doctors may need to conduct further examinations to determine how much impact the melanoma has on the rest of the body. You may have dye injected near the melanoma that will travel to the nearest lymph node, which doctors will then test to determine whether melanoma has spread to other areas of the body.
Once melanoma involves other systems of the body, treatment may grow more complex. On the other hand, if you catch melanoma early, you may need relatively little treatment and it may have little time to spread throughout the body.
Treatment may include:
- Targeted therapy, which directs therapy straight to the area of the body impacted by melanoma
Melanoma, the most serious of skin cancers, can have catastrophic consequences if not caught and treated early, On the other hand, if you catch and treat it early, you can have the melanoma removed and go on to live a successful life. Some victims of melanoma caused by their involvement at Ground Zero or their presence in Lower Manhattan seek treatment through the WTC Health Program, which will offer free treatment for any victims of the 9/11 attacks.
Melanoma’s Impacts on Your Life
Once you develop melanoma, you have an increased risk of developing skin cancer at other points in your life. Even following successful treatment, you will need to pursue an annual examination by a dermatologist to ensure that you have developed no other cancers. In the meantime, melanoma may have several impacts on your life.
Medical treatment for melanoma typically starts with the removal of the affected skin. Sometimes, especially if the melanoma covers a large area of skin, this can lead to scarring and disfigurement, which may prove uncomfortable for many victims. In some cases, infected lymph nodes may also require removal.
During the treatment process, you may need to go through chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy. These treatments can leave you feeling tired and run down or experiencing other side effects. Not only that, your medical costs may grow exponentially while you manage the treatment of your melanoma.
Seeking treatment through the WTC Health Program can alleviate the costs associated with a melanoma diagnosis, which will make it easier to manage finances during this difficult time. You can also, in many cases, continue to treat with your private oncologist or dermatologist. World-class hospitals such as Memorial Sloan Kettering are “in-network” providers for the WTCHP. The WTC Health Program’s free medical care options, however, do not pay for free travel or other expenses associated with your melanoma treatments.
Some people can continue to work on their normal schedules while going through melanoma treatment. Others, however, may need to miss work while going through treatment for melanoma.
You may need, for example, to travel for your treatments, which may make it impossible for you to work. Chemotherapy and radiation can also drain your energy and make it difficult for you to complete your usual work tasks, which can leave you out of work while you go through treatment.
Some employers will work with you during treatment: allowing you to work from home or altering your work hours to make it possible for you to continue to bring in some income while going through treatment, though those modified hours may still reduce your income during treatments.
On the other hand, your employer may prefer that you reduce your work hours or take leave from work while undergoing treatment. If your profession requires a great deal of physical strength or stamina, for example, chemotherapy or radiation might sap some of your energy and strength, which may make it difficult or impossible for you to spend your usual time at work.
You may also need to miss work on specific treatment days or in the days immediately following treatments, or you may need to miss work for appointments.
All those lost wages can lead to significant financial impacts, especially if you have a long battle with melanoma. Any lost wages (plus benefits) are part of an award from the VCF, plus an award for pain and suffering.
In most cases, doctors will remove malignant cells and some of the surrounding healthy tissue to ensure that they have fully eliminated the dangerous cells. While doctors will do their best not to remove unnecessary tissue, the deeper the melanoma, the more significant the scarring may appear. You may also have more significant scarring if the melanoma covers a larger surface of your skin.
Often, you can hide this scarring beneath your clothing. However, because melanoma most often occurs on areas of the skin exposed to the sun regularly—or, in the case of 9/11 responders and people who lived and worked in Lower Manhattan, exposed areas of the skin most likely to face contact with dust and debris—it can prove more difficult to cover the area of the skin impacted by melanoma or scarring. Many patients struggle with the change in appearance or scarring that often accompanies these treatments, especially if it occurs on the face.
Symptoms of Spreading Cancer
If melanoma spreads throughout the body, it can lead to more significant symptoms. It can spread to the lymph nodes or lungs as it moves through the body. As melanoma spreads, it can cause exhaustion and weakness, which can make it difficult for you to cope with the daily tasks of life. Advanced melanoma can also prove more difficult to manage and may result in poor outcomes, especially if left untreated. Many patients with advanced melanoma suffer long-term hospitalization or even death.
Once you experience melanoma once, you have an increased risk of developing it again in the future. As a result, you may need to take specific precautions that can help reduce the possibility of future cancer, including staying out of the sun, avoiding tanning beds, and carefully ensuring that you wear sunscreen outside, no matter the time of year. You may also need to wear long sleeves and pants, covering as much skin as possible even when it gets hot outside. People who have suffered from melanoma may also need to avoid the sun during its peak hours.
While these lifestyle changes may offer a decreased risk of melanoma or other skin cancers, they become particularly important for patients who have dealt with melanoma in the past. Some patients may find that these changes interfere with their usual lifestyles or habits, which may distress some patients.
Seeking Compensation Through the VCF Following a Melanoma Diagnosis
If you faced a melanoma diagnosis after working or volunteering at Ground Zero or after living or studying in Lower Manhattan after 9/11, you may have the right to seek compensation through the VCF.
Talk to a September 11 Attorney as Soon as Possible.
If you faced a melanoma diagnosis after your involvement at Ground Zero or after living or working in Lower Manhattan in late 2001 or early 2002, speak with an attorney about your right to compensation through the VCF.
The VCF provides much-needed assistance to many victims of the 9/11 attacks, including offering compensation that can help you move forward with your life despite your diagnosis. Most victims find that working with an experienced 9/11 attorney can help them file a claim, reduce their stress while managing that claim, and get a better idea of how much compensation they deserve.
An attorney can help you:
- Gather evidence concerning your presence at Ground Zero or in Lower Manhattan, including the multiple detailed affidavits
- Fill out all the forms correctly, which can help prevent delays in the approval of your claim
- Understand and, if needed, contest a settlement offer that fails to meet your needs
Many victims find that working closely with an attorney can help recover the funds they need faster, from ensuring that they have the evidence they need to correctly fill out all forms and properly prove their claim the first time and avoid a dreaded denial.
Discuss Your Treatment Options With Your Doctor.
In addition to the compensation offered through the VCF, you likely also have the right to pursue treatment through the World Trade Center Health Program. Seeking treatment through the WTC Health Program accomplishes several things.
First, the WTC Health Program will certify your condition, which may make it easier for you to later pursue compensation from the VCF.
Second, it will help reduce your immediate medical costs, since the program will pay for all of your future 9/11-related treatment expenses, for the rest of your life. Keep in mind that the WTC Health Program will not reimburse you for extra expenses associated with your medical treatments, but will ensure that you receive the treatment you need free of charge. Discuss your treatment options with your doctor to determine whether you should pursue treatment through this program or pursue treatment independently.
If you were diagnosed with melanoma since 2001 and you were a first responder, or downtown worker, resident, or student on 9/11 or any time in the months after the terrorist attacks, you may deserve compensation through the VCF.
Hansen & Rosasco, LLP handles only 9/11 claims, with a focus on cancer claims. Contact our experienced 9/11 attorneys as soon after your diagnosis as possible to learn more about your legal rights. We can quickly, efficiently, and correctly file your 9/11 VCF claim, getting you the maximum compensation available.