9/11 ‘Dust Lady’ survivor Marcy Borders dies of cancer

Marcy Borders © Stan Honda
New Jersey banker Marcy Borders, whose shell-shocked and dust-covered figure became one of the lasting images of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, has died at the age of 42 after battling stomach cancer.

Borders was a 28-year-old legal assistant at Bank of America when the first plane struck the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Looking to escape as quickly as possible, Borders made her way down the tower’s staircase from the 81st floor, fleeing clouds of dust that covered her body and nearly suffocated her, before she was ultimately led out of the building.

During her escape, Agence France-Presse photographer Stan Honda snapped a photo of Borders completely smothered in dust. The image quickly became one of the most iconic portraits from the event, and Borders became known as the “dust lady.”

"My mom fought an amazing battle,” her daughter, Noelle Borders, told The New York Post. “Not only is she the ‘Dust Lady’ but she is my hero and she will forever live through me.”

In August 2014, shortly after Borders told the Jersey Journal she was trying to re-enter the working world by helping out on a local mayoral campaign, she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. She said she couldn’t help but wonder if her cancer was linked to the events of 9/11 on being diagnosed.

“I’m saying to myself, ‘Did this thing ignite cancer cells in me?’” she said in November 2014. “I definitely believe it, because I haven’t had any illnesses. I don’t have high blood pressure… high cholesterol, diabetes.”

“How do you go from being healthy to waking up the next day with cancer?” she said before sobbing, according to the newspaper.

The connection between cancer and the aftermath of 9/11 hasn’t always been recognized by federal authorities, and it was only in 2012 that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health decided to cover some 50 forms of cancer that had been linked to the exposure of toxins at Ground Zero. More than 1,100 people who either lived or worked near the World Trade Center have been diagnosed with cancer, according to a 2013 CNN report.

One month after Borders was diagnosed, three former New York City firefighters died from cancer, the Washington Post reported.

Cancer wasn’t the only obstacle in Borders’ life after surviving the 9/11 attacks, however. She suffered from depression and substance abuse and, because she had difficulty paying her bills, she lost custody of her children, the Daily Mail reported. In 2011, however, she sobered up in a rehabilitation program and regained custody.

According to the New York Times, Borders’ financial troubles also meant that she could not take the medication she needed in the doses prescribed by doctors.

She told the Daily Mail in 2011 that, for some time in her life, she believed former Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was plotting more attacks, to the point that the sight of an airplane caused her to panic.

Nevertheless, Borders said last year that she didn’t view herself as a victim when asked by the Jersey Journal if she ever looked at the famous photo of herself.

“I try to take myself from being a victim to being a survivor now,” she said. “I don’t want to be a victim anymore.”