Fdny Widow: Toxic Job Is 'legal Suicide'
November 11, 2006 -- FDNY widow Portia Johnson describes cancer as the kryptonite that killed her Superman husband. The Brooklyn woman lost Vanclive Johnson to non-Hodgkin lymphoma when he was just 42 years of age, two years after he bravely rushed to the burning Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. When he died on Aug. 22, 2003, Johnson weighed a fraction of the 245 pounds that had served him well when he played for the New England Patriots for a year before joining Ladder 25. "This is the best guy you could ever have met," Portia Johnson said at her Far Rockaway home yesterday. "One of his friends said Van was like Superman and cancer was kryptonite. "Yeah, I guess it was." Johnson's killer diagnosis came just 41/2 months before he died. The trigger was the back pain that caused him to take his first sick day in a 10-year career with the FNDY. Tumors eventually covered his back. He weighed just 170 pounds. A memory etched forever in his 13-year-old daughter Sheree's mind was watching her dad attend her elementary school graduation in a wheelchair. Three-year-old Van Jr. never got to meet his father. "It was cancer, cancer from 9/11 is what he said," his grieving wife told The Post. "I can blame it on that because he said it out of his own mouth." The release of a study finding higher rates of 10 cancers in firefighters came as little shock to Portia Johnson. " Maybe I'm not surprised because Van died. I was not the least bit surprised, unfortunately," she said. Portia Johnson lashed out at the FDNY and the city for failing to protect firefighters. "It's legal suicide," she said. "Make sure they are all right. Make sure they can do their job. If you are running into a building . . . there is a large probability they are not coming out. That's suicide." "I hope nobody else goes through this. I don't want anybody else to experience this. "No cop's wife, no one. That was my husband and my best friend. The other half of me."