It happened so fast.
Yet it might have been 11 years in the making.
Steven Cioffi, 40 years old, an NYPD lieutenant, will be waked Thursday and buried Friday. He died Tuesday of a rare, aggressive cancer that his family and his union suspect may be related to his time working at Ground Zero after 9/11. Cioffi, a lifelong Throgs Neck resident, had mourned the loss of another local boy and friend, Firefighter Michael Lynch, who died in the twin towers on that catastrophic day.
Cioffi went down there for the rescue/recovery effort on September 13, and spent a total of four months working near The Pile or on the perimeters of Ground Zero.
He resumed his police duties, at the Central Park Precinct.
And then, last autumn, Cioffi became sick.
By Dec. 1, he learned he had non-small cell carcinoma, in his brain, his lung, his liver. It had originated in his lung.
“It happened so fast,” said his wife, Luisa.
He was the father of twin boys, just born in August.
“We thought about it right away, that it might be related to 9/11,” said Luisa.
“He had been registered at Mount Sinai (the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring & Treatment Program) and gotten a chest x-ray last February and it was fine, then in December he had the tumor on his lung.”
Cioffi was born and raised in Locust Point, attended St. Frances de Chantal school, St. Raymond Boys High School, and John Jay College.
He had joined the Police Department in 1994, was on patrol in the Central Park Precinct, then promoted to sergeant, serving in the 41st Precinct in the South Bronx, then back to Central Park.
Luisa said Cioffi played softball for a team sponsored by a Throgs Neck bar, Fiddlers Elbow, now Brewski’s, a team that Lynch had started.
“Steve said to keep the softball team going in honor of Mike Lynch,” said Luisa.
That bar was also where she met Cioffi, six years ago. They had a conversation and fell in love.
They lived in Silver Beach. They traveled to Ireland, Italy, all over the U.S.
Last year, after trying for some time, Luisa became pregnant.
“The one thing he wanted in his life was to be a father. He talked about seeing them play in Little League,” she said, crying.
Toward the end of Luisa’s pregnancy, Cioffi started to feel ill, tired, have headaches.
“He shrugged it off, and then when the babies were born — Owen and Max, on Aug. 2 — we never slept for three months, and so he figured that was why he was tired,” said Luisa.
Cioffi felt worse and went to the doctor after Thanksgiving and found out he had a mass on his brain. He had it removed.
“He kept saying ‘we’re so lucky,’ even after he was diagnosed, because we had the twins,” said Luisa.
And then a CAT scan revealed the cancer in other parts of his body.
“I’m going to fight it, they’re not growing up without a father,” Cioffi vowed.
“With all the toxins in the air at Ground Zero, it is an easy leap to make that working there led to this rare, aggressive cancer,” said Louis Turco, president of the Lieutenants Benevolent Association. He said Cioffi’s case was still being determined.
“This is what we’re seeing, these young guys and gals getting cancer years later; it’s not a matter of if you get sick, but when.”
Since 9/11, Turco said, five lieutenants’ deaths from cancer have been designated line of duty, attributed to Ground Zero. One just happened last year.
“I saw Steve three weeks ago; he said ‘I gotta beat this, I got twins,” Turco said. “It happened so fast.”
But did it really begin long ago, on September 11, 2001? Did the same horrific attack kill Mike Lynch when the towers fell, and Steven Cioffi more than 11 years later, after 11 summers of Cioffi playing softball on a team in honor of Lynch?