Marcy Borders, the dust-covered woman who was photographed as she fled from the World Trade Center on September 11, has died of stomach cancer. She was 42.
In a statement posted to the Facebook group Remember Me - 9/11, Border's cousin John Bordes wrote "… my HERO and cousin Marcy Borders has unfortunately succumbed to the disease that have riddled her body since 9/11." He continued:
Thank you all for your heartfelt wishes and concerns…. In addition to losing so many friends, coworkers, and colleagues on and after that tragic day.. The pains from yesteryear have found a way to resurface …
NJ.com reports that Borders was diagnosed with the disease in August of 2014. In a conversation with NJ.com in November of last year, she wondered whether the cancer was related to the terrorist attack:
"I'm saying to myself 'Did this thing ignite cancer cells in me?'" she said. "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 asked, before breaking down in sobs.
Borders said she owed $190,000 in medical bills she couldn't pay, even before an upcoming surgery.
CNN reported in 2014 that more 2,500 first responders and rescue workers who spent time at Ground Zero have been diagnosed with leukemia, myeloma, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, and other cancers that could be linked to exposure to toxins at the site.
The image of Borders, snapped by Agence France-Presse photographer Stan Honda, is a poignant snapshot of the horror of that day. On the tenth anniversary of the attack, Honda described what it was like to photograph Borders:
I was near a building lobby and a police officer was pulling people into the entrance to get them out of the danger. I went in and outside became black for a few minutes. A woman came in completely covered in gray dust. You could tell she was nicely dressed for work and for a second she stood in the lobby. I took one shot of her before the police officer started to direct people up a set of stairs, thinking it would be safer off the ground level.
Years later, Marcy Borders told the New York Post that on that day, “I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. The world went silent." She told the Post that she had only been working for Bank of America for a month when the attacks occurred. She ignored her bosses request that employees stay at their desks, on the 81st floor of the north tower, and fled from the building. Her life fell apart after that.
“My life spiraled out of control. I didn’t do a day’s work in nearly 10 years, and by 2011 I was a complete mess. Every time I saw an aircraft, I panicked. If I saw a man on a building, I was convinced he was going to shoot me. I started smoking crack cocaine, because I didn’t want to live," she told the Post.
But by 2014, her life looked different. She was sober after a stint in rehab, and had started working again. Rest in peace, Marcy.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.