Family and friends described Marci Simms as a hero, a fighter and now an angel.
Simms, a lieutenant in the New York City Police Department, died last week of lung cancer 14 years after working several weeks at Ground Zero in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack at the World Trade Center. She was 51.
She was the latest of the estimated 1,700 people who have died as a result of their work after the initial attack, mostly stemming from the toxic dust cloud that engulfed the rescue, recovery and cleanup efforts for months in New York City.
Simms was one of 201 certified cases of lung cancer related to the terrorist attacks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention World Trade Center Health Program.
Her death has raised awareness of the still ongoing and tragic effects of 9/11, as well as the 15 percent of all lung cancer cases not involve smoking or secondhand tobacco smoke.
“The dust in the air was powdery soft, the air was gray, and when I would breathe it in, I could feel my throat burning,” she told a Stony Brook University School of Journalism student who wrote about her plight in 2014. “You felt like it was just burning your throat.”
Lung Cancer Doesn’t Only Strike Smokers
Simms was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in June 2014.
Although it’s usually associated with smoking, occupational exposure can also cause lung cancer. The terrorist attack pulverized asbestos and dozens of other carcinogens in the Twin Towers and created a lingering cloud of death in the air.
Simms was a rookie officer when she answered the call at the World Trade Center, and she worked tirelessly through the recovery efforts. As the years passed, she moved up the NYPD ranks, but her health began to deteriorate.
What she originally believed was a cyst in her stomach and respiratory issues, turned out to be lung cancer.
Legislators Need to Renew the James Zadroga Act
Her death is another rallying cry for those lobbying Congress today for the renewal of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act set to expire in 2016.
The Zadroga Act originally became law in December 2010. It was designed to provide much-needed medical services for Ground Zero responders exposed to the toxins.
The plan fortunately covered Simms, but she was worried others who will follow her may not be as lucky. There are tens of thousands of responders today who are either battling health issues or may be in the future.
Diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma often can take 10-40 years after exposure. The World Trade Center Health Program already has reported more than 4,000 cases of various cancers.
The 201 cases of lung cancer are actually fewer than some had expected. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. An estimated 157,000 people will die from lung cancer in 2015, according to the American Lung Association. And approximately 221,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year.
The Simms case attracted considerable attention throughout New York City and beyond. Through her career, she worked in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Flushing. She was the youngest of six children. Friends say she loved her career and serving others as an NYPD officer.
“She was an amazing woman,” her sister Susan Fosco told the New York Daily News. “She turned around when she was a little girl and said she wanted to be a cop. She always said if I man can do it, I can do it, too.”