NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Like most New Yorkers, the memories of Sept. 11, 2001 are hauntingly vivid.
It wasn’t until 11 years later that husband and father of two, Jeff Flynn, would realize the full scope of the impact the terror attack had on his own personal health.
“I actually felt a lump a while before that in my chest,” Flynn said.
It turned out to be cancer.
“I just remember getting so flushed, my life just changed instantly.”
Flynn, who lives in East Meadow, was not a first responder. He was working near Ground Zero with Goldman Sachs and continued working in Lower Manhattan for months after.
At that time, the public was led to believe the air was safe. He never imagined it could lead to Stage 3 breast cancer.
Surgeries, chemo, and lifelong medications would follow.
“I didn’t even know men could get it, it was a rude awakening for me,” Flynn told CBS2.
Male breast cancer is rare – it’s estimated to affect about one out of 1,000 men – and the diagnosis can be both shocking and embarrassing.
“It’s like shameful… men are ashamed to bring up the fact that they have a female disease, but it’s not a female disease, men get breast cancer too.”
“We’re not taught like women to go for annual exam, we don’t do self-exam and if we do feel something we might think ‘oh I strained a muscle in the gym,’” attorney Michael Barasch said.
Barasch represents Flynn and 36 other men with 9/11 related breast cancer. That’s on top of 15,000 other clients who were sickened as a result of the attacks.
“The survivors, the non-responders, were breathing the same toxic dust so they’re getting the same cancers,” the lawyer said.
Rare and aggressive cancers that doctors have described as a disease on steroids.
CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez explains that’s why it’s so important to take any warning sign seriously.
“If a man has any sort of lump on chest that they notice that wasn’t there, get it checked out,” Dr. Gomez said.
That’s Flynn’s message too. As a survivor with no detectable cancer right now, he’s just glad to be here to share it.
“I did think I was gonna pass and I’m extremely happy I’m still standing,” Flynn said.
Barasch is concerned there are still a lot of people who were living, working, or going to school in Lower Manhattan that don’t realize why they’re sick or could still get sick.
They are entitled to a lot of the same health programs as first responders and should be getting annual exams, including an annual skin exam.