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Iconic 'Dust Lady' of 9/11 dies of stomach cancer at 42 (w/video)

When the World Trade Center's South Tower collapsed, just before 10 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, photographer Stan Honda was in lower Manhattan, taking pictures of the incomprehensible scene.

"There was a giant roar, like a train, and between the buildings I could see huge clouds of smoke and dust billowing out," Honda recounted years later.

He ducked into a building lobby, where a police officer was pulling people into the entrance to get them out of the danger.

"A woman came in completely covered in gray dust," Honda recalled in 2011. "You could tell she was nicely dressed for work and for a second she stood in the lobby. I took one shot of her.''

The woman turned out to be Marcy Borders. She was just a month into her new job at Bank of America on the 81st floor of the North Tower when American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the building. Instead of remaining at her desk, as her supervisor had ordered, she ran to the stairwell and made her way down to the street, which was heaving with enormous clouds of dust.

A stranger pulled her into a building lobby just as the North Tower collapsed — and it was then Honda photographed her. She was 28 at the time, and Honda's haunting photo of her became one of the most iconic images of that horrifying day. The image — and, thus, Borders — became known as the "Dust Lady."

But Borders became severely depressed and started smoking crack in the years after the attack. "I didn't do a day's work in nearly 10 years and by 2011 I was a complete mess," she said in 2011. ­"Every time I saw an aircraft, I panicked."

Borders lost custody of her two kids and checked into rehab in April 2011. She got sober and eventually ­regained custody.

Then, sickness struck: Borders received a diagnosis of stomach cancer in August. On Monday night, she died at the age of 42.

"My mom fought an amazing battle," 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."

When she was diagnosed with cancer, Borders wondered whether it was related to 9/11. "I'm saying to myself, 'Did this thing ignite cancer cells in me?' " she told the Jersey Journal last year. "I definitely believe it because I haven't had any illnesses. I don't have high blood pressure . . . high cholesterol, diabetes.''

A month after Borders was diagnosed with cancer, three former members of the New York City Fire Department who had responded to the World Trade Center died on the same day. All three had cancer.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., noted in a statement at the time: "While we honor these men, and mourn their loss, it is a stark reminder that 13 years later, the health effects of 9/11 are far from over, and will be with us for many years to come."

Thousands of people who were at Ground Zero on and after 9/11 — including emergency service workers, survivors and local residents — have since been diagnosed with cancer. In 2011, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund was reopened to compensate first responders for health problems related to the attacks. Yet, no study has conclusively proved a connection between 9/11 and cancer in people who were at Ground Zero. Researchers have called for continued monitoring.

In 2011, Borders told the British newspaper the Telegraph that she still had the skirt, blouse and boots that she was wearing on 9/11 — "still unwashed and coated in the dust of the Twin Towers." But when a reporter asked last year if she ever looked at Honda's photo, she said she tried to avoid seeing herself as the "Dust Lady."

"I try to take myself from being a victim to being a survivor now," Borders said. "I don't want to be a victim anymore."

Contributing: New York Post, the Guardian (London)