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9/11 first responder spending his last days fighting for victims' fund

9/11 first responder gives interview from hospice
"As long as God gives me the time, I'll be here, advocating," says 9/11 first responder fighting for funds 07:03

Former U.S. Marine and New York City police detective Luis Alvarez said there's nothing else doctors can do to fight his cancer. But this hero is not giving up his fight to help fellow first responders of the September 11 attacks.

Alvarez told CBS News he is feeling "a little overwhelmed. I'm not used to this type of attention." 

Alvarez didn't have a 69th round of chemotherapy this week. His cancer has spread to the liver and doctors told the 53-year-old that continuing treatment would not prolong his life. 

"I got sick 16 years after the fact," Alvarez said. "I go to the doctor, he calls back into the office a few days later and said you have Stage 4 cancer."

Luis Alvarez  CBS News

Alvarez spent weeks down at Ground Zero searching for victims and was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2016.  Alvarez is one of more than 50,000 people whose illness has been linked to their exposure to toxins that were released after the towers collapsed.

He's received compensation for a Congressionally-approved 9/11 fund, but has been a powerful voice for others who haven't. Even now from his hospice bed.

"My message to Congress is: We have to get together and get this bill passed as quickly as possible," Alvarez said. "I would love to be around when it happens. The government has to act like first responders, you know, put politics aside and let's get this bill done, because we did our job and the government has to do theirs."

Last Tuesday, Alvarez joined Jon Stewart to demand lawmakers pass a new September 11 compensation bill. The fund administrator said he could run out of money next year and has had to cut benefits. Former NYC firefighter John McLean was supposed to receive more than $500,000.

Former Daily Show Host Jon Stewart Testifies On Need To Reauthorize The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund
Luis Alvarez, center, after his testimony in front of the House Judiciary Committee on June 11, 2019. Getty

"I wound up getting $15,000," McLean said. "And people in the past who had my injuries got a lot more than me."

More than 50,000 people have applied for compensation. Nearly 29,000 have received some payment totaling more than $5 billion and more than 16,000 cases are still pending.  

Alvarez said he will spend his final days fighting for them.

"My purpose now is, regretfully, I can't throw the bomb suit on anymore and run around and do my job. As long as God gives me the time, I'll be here, advocating, because guys are dying now," Alvarez said. 

Luis Alvarez  CBS News

"Given what you know now, what you've been through, 9/11 happened, if you had that moment one more time, would you do it again?" CBS News asked.

"Absolutely, in a heartbeat," Alvarez said. 

House and Senate leaders have said they will vote on a bill to extend the fund, but have not set a date.

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