9/11 Volunteer Combats Lung Cancer with CyberKnife

9/11 volunteer combats lung cancer with CyberKnife

SMITHTOWN, NY — When standard cancer treatments failed to help John Eberhardt’s lung cancer, a high-tech tool helped him combat the disease.

In April, Mr. Eberhardt underwent five days of treatment at North Shore Radiation Therapy, CyberKnife of Long Island. The Smithtown practice is part of the North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute.

The 59-year-old Huntington Station man’s cancer had spread to his brain and right hip, causing him to receive external beam therapy, as well as immunotherapy and chemotherapy. Despite the treatments, a tumor in his right lung continued to grow.

That’s when Heather Zinkin, MD, a radiation oncologist for the North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute, suggested CyberKnife as an alternative to surgery. The treatment involved a machine with a robotic arm to precisely target Mr. Eberhardt’s tumor with high doses of radiation while sparing healthy tissue nearby.

“He had a solitary area in the lung that was near critical structures, so this was the safest and best option to deliver the highest dose of radiation,” said Dr. Zinkin.

Before each treatment, imaging technicians performed computed tomography (CT) scans to determine the location, size and shape of the tumor. Each of Mr. Eberhardt’s treatments lasted about 60 minutes.

His March 2013 cancer diagnosis shocked Mr. Eberhardt, who’s been a vegetarian and runner for most of his life and never smoked.

“I thought I would never get [cancer] because I consciously made an effort to be relatively healthy,” he said.

But in hindsight, he feels one lifestyle choice may have increased his risk for developing the disease. A volunteer member of the Red Cross Disaster Action Team, Mr. Eberhardt spent the first five weeks after the World Trade Center attacks stationed two blocks from where the South Tower came down.

“I felt compelled to go down there. I just couldn’t sit in Huntington and listen to it on the news,” said Mr.

Eberhardt, a printing press technician by day who volunteered evenings and weekends at Ground Zero.

“The first week I worked with the dogs because we were still in the rescue mode,” he said. “When it switched from rescue to reconstruction, then I did other things.”

All the while, Mr. Eberhardt was breathing in Ground Zero dust.

To date, more than 1,100 people who worked or lived in the Lower Manhattan area after 9/11 have been diagnosed with cancer, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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