September 11, 2001, was primary election day in New York City. Paul Murphy, an NYPD lieutenant, visited the polls in Brooklyn early that morning to make sure the election process was going smoothly. On his way back to police headquarters, he noticed smoke billowing from one of the World Trade Center towers.
"I called my office and spoke to a detective. He said that the building shook a few minutes ago, and it felt almost like an earthquake," Murphy told LifeZette. "I assume that was the impact of the first jet smashing into the tower."
"We worked 12-hour days, six days a week [at Ground Zero]," said Paul Murphy.
He proceeded on his way, and was driving through a tunnel when he heard on the radio that the second tower had been hit. "I realized this was no accident. This was a planned attack on New York City."
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Other planes were still in the air at this point, and the police were unsure whether other buildings would be hit as well. They immediately began evacuating people. The south tower collapsed 10:05 am, sending a massive cloud of dust and debris billowing through the streets. Shortly thereafter, at 10:28 am, the north tower collapsed. It peeled outward and shrouded the streets in dust and ash.
"We just tried our best to get hundreds of thousands of people safely out of Manhattan so the rescue effort could be unencumbered," said Murphy. "I worked that day after midnight and returned the next day, and went to Ground Zero."
In the weeks that followed, Murphy and his fellow officers were constantly at Ground Zero -- digging, rescuing, cleaning. They also helped the military maintain important checkpoints across the city's bridges. "We worked 12-hour days, six days a week," said Murphy.
When the dust settled -- 2,753 people were gone. Murdered. Missing.
"These were people who just went to work and then got evaporated," Murphy said. "You had bankers, bond tradesmen, people working at restaurants -- all just showing up to work, and they got slaughtered."
But the fallout from 9/11 did not end there. The debris at Ground Zero included dangerous carcinogens: mercury, asbestos, benzene. Some 300 to 400 tons of asbestos fibers had gone into the construction of the World Trade Center. Years after the planes hit, a significant percentage of first responders began coming down with cancer. By 2008, 552 first responders had been diagnosed. By 2015, that number jumped to more than 2,500 people.
Murphy began noticing his own symptoms when his stomach started to expand. "I'm a thin guy, but I had this enormous belly -- almost like a beer belly. But I'm not a beer drinker." He knew something was wrong when he couldn't do simple calisthenics.
Murphy in 2012, eight months after his first surgery. He worked day and night to try to rescue the innocent on 9/11 -- and never gave up.
He visited his primary care physician, who immediately sent him to the emergency room. After a series of scans and biopsies, doctors diagnosed him with a rare cancer of the appendix. In this type of cancer, a small growth within the appendix bursts through the wall and spreads mucus-producing tumor cells through the abdomen. The median survival rate? Just under 10 years.
Murphy endured three major surgeries, two of which included high doses of hot chemotherapy pumped directly to cancer cells in his abdomen. "I was on the table for eight hours for each of those." He also endured repeated rounds of chemotherapy -- so many he can't remember.
But he had to halt treatments when he developed such bad numbness in his feet that he had difficulty walking. Then a friend told him about a clinical trial with a New York company, Tyme Technologies.
The FDA had approved the company's new drug, SM-88, for a phase II clinical trial last October. SM-88 is the first of its kind in a new type of targeted cancer therapy -- it uses the cancer cells' own metabolic processes against them. Recent studies have shown that amino acids, not sugar, supply most building blocks for tumor cells. SM-88 delivers something the cancer cells want -- an amino acid -- which creates oxidative stress in the cells. Tumor cells are naturally anaerobic, meaning non-oxygen; this stress weakens their defenses. Then the body's immune system does its job.
"We take a metabolic approach, working alongside the immune system," said Michael Demurjian, COO of Tyme Technologies in New York City. He says it works something like a balloon. You could easily pop a balloon with a pin -- but if that balloon is encased in metal, it's much harder. "We create a hole in the metal casing, so you can pop that balloon."
Participating in a clinical trial was a smart move, said Murphy, shown here on June 30, 2016.
Participating in the clinical trial was a good decision, said Murphy. "Five weeks into treatment, my PET scan showed a significant reduction in cancer activity -- including smaller tumors and an overall reduction in the number of tumors -- the first time this has occurred without surgery."
"We're on the brink of something significant here, and we're excited about it," Demurjian told LifeZette. He said that the company has been giving priority to 9/11 first responders such as Murphy. In a couple of weeks, Tyme Technologies plans to put together an expanded access program for the first responders in order to help them sooner rather than later. This project is close to Demurjian's heart.
"My father was a New York City police officer," he said.
"We're huge fans of the first responders," said Demurjian. "They ran toward trouble when everyone else was running away -- and we see it as our job and commitment to do whatever we can to help them."
(Inline photos courtesy Paul Murphy)