Marcy Borders, known around the world as the "Dust Lady" for the eerie photograph taken of her covered in ash and grit on Sept. 11, 2001, died on Monday of cancer, her brother announced on Facebook.
"I can't believe my sister is gone," Michael Borders wrote.
Another relative, Elnardo Borders, asked the online community to keep his family in their prayers. "We lost our very own hero, Marcy Borders," he said.
Borders, a native of Bayonne, New Jersey, was diagnosed with stomach cancer in August 2014, just as she was re-entering the workforce, according to the website NJ.com.
She wondered whether her illness stemmed from the deadly attacks, telling the Jersey Journal in November, "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."
Borders was just 28 years old when terrorists flew two airliners into the World Trade Center's Twin Towers, killing nearly 3,000 people. She had been working for Bank of America only about a month, the Daily Telegraph reported in 2011.
She had been standing by the photocopier on the 81st floor of the north tower when the first plane struck. The impact knocked her to the ground, and, ignoring a supervisor's instruction to wait for rescuers, she fled down a stairwell with other employees, the Telegraph said.
The south tower collapsed just as she exited, coating her in gritty dust and debris that blocked out the sun.
Like many survivors, she struggled to deal with the horrors she experienced that day, and she turned to drugs and alcohol. But in 2011, Borders, a mother of two, checked into rehab and has stayed clean since, she told The Jersey Journal last year.
The paper reported Borders said she was struggling to pay off $190,000 in medical bills.
Borders avoided looking at the photograph known the world over.
The New Jersey newspaper quoted her as saying, "I try to take myself from being a victim to being a survivor now. I don't want to be a victim anymore."