Dana Nelson experienced a pivotal year in 2020. The 34-year-old teacher gave birth to her son in January as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded.
“Then this past December of 2020, I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer,” Nelson said. It’s a rare form of cancer that can be aggressive and difficult to treat.
“I have no genetic abnormalities that would lead to this, I don’t have a strong family history of breast cancer,” Nelson said. “I really feel in my heart pretty strongly that my exposure to… the pollution, the things going on after September 11th, have to do with that diagnosis.”
On September 11, 2001, Nelson was a 14-year-old freshman at Stuyvesant High School, blocks away from the World Trade Center. The federal government provides benefits to anyone who got sick after they lived or worked near the site of the 9/11 attacks. Many first responders are aware of these benefits, but there could be hundreds of thousands of other survivors just like Nelson who are also eligible. Some were just kids 20 years ago.
Nelson’s school closed right after the attacks, but reopened in October as Ground Zero still smoldered.
“We could smell it; we could see the smoke,” Nelson remembered the pile of rubble that burned for over three months. “I remember just constantly seeing street cleaning vehicles going up and down the streets because of this smoky sludge that was accumulating everywhere — on the streets and sidewalks.”