Healthy Living

17 Years After September 11, 2001, FBI Agent Battles Lymphoma With the Help of the Sentara Cancer Network

FBI explosives expert, Thomas Mohnal, has been witness to a lot of horrific cases in his line of work.

17 Years After September 11, 2001, FBI Agent Battles Lymphoma With the Help of the Sentara Cancer Network


FBI explosives expert, Thomas Mohnal, has been witness to a lot of horrific cases in his line of work. The Unabomber case, Embassy bombing in Africa, plane crashes that happened in New York and Mexico – the list goes on and on. 

Back in 2001, when planes hit the WTC on September 11th, Mohnal was instructed to get to New York City immediately. As he sat in stopped traffic that morning, he watched as a second plane hit, this time slamming into the Pentagon. Mohnal was the first one to call into FBI headquarters. He was also the first FBI agent to get on the scene, and was one of the first arriving first responders.

For the next 6 weeks, Mohnal would spend his days investigating the scene at the Pentagon and helping with recovery. “The jet fuel that was burning, plastics, metals, and the debris were all airborne. It was bad” he remembered. And as the years flew by, first responders and survivors would have to deal with another awful reminder of one of the nation’s greatest tragedies. According the World Trade Center Health Program, there have been more than 87,000 Americans diagnosed with severe health conditions, This include cancer as a result of the attacks. Mohnal is one of them.

More than just appendicitis

In August of 2016, Mohnal was admitted to the hospital for a ruptured appendix. During the course of his care, doctors ordered a CT scan to further assess the situation and they were surprised when the results came back. He then went on to meet with Dr. Farn Chan. 

Before he knew it, the husband and father was put on a treatment regime that involved attacking his tumors and combating the cancer. However, his tumors, ranging from 1 ¼ to 1 ¾ inches in size, did not respond to the first combination of drugs. It was then that Dr. Chan made the decision to change the treatment regime to “R-CHOP” – a chemotherapy combination commonly used in the treatment of lymphoma.

Even though being diagnosed and treated for lymphoma was a difficult situation to journey through, Mohnal takes pride in the fact that he has never missed a day of work while receiving treatment. 

Not second-guessing the past

Today, Mohnal is on a maintenance regimen which includes undergoing 3-hour infusions, every 8 weeks. The most recent results from his scans showed that one of his tumors is gone and the other two have reduced in size. While Mohnal does not know what the future holds in store for him, he stressed that he wouldn't change his actions 17 years ago, even if he knew how it would effect his health.

Advancing care and improving survival

September is marked as Lymphoma Awareness Month. Lymphoma is a type of cancer that originates in the lymphatic system. It can develop in multiple parts of the body such as the lymph nodes, blood, spleen, bone marrow and other organs. There are two main types of lymphoma: Hodgkin’s lymphoma (HL) and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). The main difference between the two is in the specific lymphocyte (infection-fighting cells of the immune system) each one affects. When examining the cells, if a doctor detects the presence of a specific type of abnormal cell known as Reed-Sternberg cell, the lymphoma is classified as Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

According to the American Cancer Society, in 2018 it is estimated that there will be around 74,680 newly diagnosed cases of NHL, out of which approximately 19,910 will result in death. Moreover, it is estimated that there will be 8,500 newly diagnosed cases of HL, out of which around 1,050 will results in death.

Although a cure remains to be found, the nation’s largest lymphoma-focused health organization – The Lymphoma Research Foundation - continues in its efforts to raise awareness, eliminate lymphoma, as well as serve those affected by the disease. It offers patients and their loved ones a broad range of opportunities to get involved with the health organization and to make a meaningful impact. As the Foundation’s motto states – “Together, we can make the biggest impact of all.”