Upon reflection of the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attack 14 years ago, it is difficult to divorce the nature of this national tragedy from the lingering memories of physical wreckage and devastating imagery of death and injury.
One of these stark pictures captivated America. The image of a woman, frozen in time, petrified and entirely covered in dust after one of the Twin Towers was hit.
Marcy Borders, dubbed the “Dust Lady,” has resurfaced in the media with reports that she died recently of stomach cancer.
When the first plane struck, a then 28-eight-year-old Borders was working at her desk for Bank of America on the 81st floor of the northern tower of the World Trade Center.
After retreating to a stairwell with other survivors, Borders was consumed by an onslaught of dust and smoke clouds. Borders, struggling to breathe, was led to a lower floor on a connected building.
The New York Times reporter Jonah Bromwich used a quote from Borders detailing her thoughts on the ordeal of escaping the dust clouds in the damaged building after the attack.
“Every time I inhaled, my mouth filled up with it [smoke]. I couldn’t see my hands in front of my face. I was just saying to myself and saying out loud that I didn’t want to die,” Bromwich quoted of Borders for The New York Times.
Before being ushered to a different floor thought to be safer, Borders emerged from the lobby covered from head to toe in thick gray ash, it was then that a photographer for Agence France-Presse, Stan Honda, captured her iconic image as the “Dust Lady.”
While years passed since the 9/11 terrorist attack, Borders continued to struggle. Borders, a mother of two, had difficulties with depression, drug addiction and paying medical bills. Eventually, this resulted in an inability for her to take needed medication in the prescribed doses.
Borders described finding peace after going to rehab and the death of Osama bin Laden.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck her again August 2014 in the form of a diagnosis of stomach cancer.
In a report for The Jersey Journal, Jonathan Lin quoted Borders contemplating whether the root of her cancer diagnosis was the smoke she inhaled on 9/11. “I’m saying to myself ‘Did this thing ignite cancer cells in me?’ I definitely believe it because I haven’t had any illnesses. I don’t have high blood pressure…high cholesterol, diabetes,” Lin quoted for The Jersey Journal.
After a year-long struggle with stomach cancer, Borders’ family announced that she had passed away. Like Borders, many 9/11 survivors struggle with life-long ailments suspected to be in connection with smoke inhalation.
The CDC’s World Trade Center Health Program sites that, as of this May, 3,700 survivors and first responders of the World Trade Center attack have been diagnosed with various forms of cancer. After the collapse of the towers, the CDC found reports that workers and the general public were exposed to many known chemical carcinogens.
Last September, a month after Borders was diagnosed with stomach cancer, three former members of New York City fire department, who all responded to the World Trade Center, died on the same day of cancer.
In order to help people whose health was similarly affected by 9/11, Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and administrator of the World Trade Center Health Program, approved a $4.3 billion 9/11 compensation fund.
Initially, the list of health conditions the fund covered was limited to non-severe respiratory illnesses.
However, in light of the emerging links between toxic smoke exposure after 9/11 and cancer, the 9/11 compensation fund has approved coverage for 14 cancers, including but not limited to: lung, trachea, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, bladder, kidney, thyroid and breast.
In addition to this development, The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was passed in 2010 to extend compensation for 9/11 survivors who continue to suffer illnesses and develop cancers 14 years later.
Although the World Trade Center terrorist attack is a distant memory for most young, non-New York-native college students, it is important to honor the memory of survivors like Borders and let their stories be known.