"She was up for the fight, but the odds were stacked against her."

Pioneer Press published the beautiful and tragic story of Holly Anderson, an artist, poet, playwright, wife, mom and relief worker. 

Holly Anderson’s amazing life began and ended in Minnesota, though she left her mark globally in many ways. Before Holly moved to New York City’s Lower East Side in the early 1980’s, she attended Minneapolis College of Art and Design, traveled across Europe and landed in Boston upon her return to the United States. John Cage, the American music composer and music theorist was her mentor and inspired her to mix words with art to create her poetry. Holly wrote for dance companies, off-Broadway plays and also wrote lyrics for the band Mission of Burma. Holly’s poem “White Story” would become Mission of Burma’s song “Mica”. Her work was collected in anthologies and the library collections of MOMA, Brooklyn Museum, and London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.

The role that would have the greatest impact on Holly and her family was the volunteering she did following 9/11. Holly put her life on hold while she worked at Respite 1, an emergency relief center for rescue workers who sifted through “the pile” following the 9/11 attacks. For three months Holly greeted exhausted workers at the door where she invited them in for rest and replenishment.  While providing relief for scores of depleted workers, Holly too was breathing in the toxic mix of dust, glass, asbestos and jet fuel.

Some of these guys, the iron workers and steam fitters could be dying before our eyes. Already there are some ghosts walking in their lug-soled boots. Their faces blank under battered hard hats. Goggles and particle masks at their throats. The impulse is strong to take them into your arms. Say something. But what?

A Queens cop told me, ‘We’re all lab rats down here anyway, no matter what any agency says.’ He was referring to physical health concerns. … God help us all.
— Holly Anderson's journal entry

It would take 16 ½ years for Holly’s symptoms to show up in the form of “World Trade Center cough.”

While her symptoms began in March of 2017, her official cancer diagnosis came on September 11th. Her cancer was aggressive and the treatment was taking its toll. She wanted to return home to Minnesota, to family. With her daughter Lucy Kane and husband Jonathan Kane by her side she flew home on December 22. She was able to see out the window of the plane the sun set over the Mississippi River as they arrived in Minnesota. She fell asleep and died peacefully while Jonathan was wheeling her through the airport and to the car.

Holly’s story is sadly one of thousands. A large portion of New York City residents who lived, worked, went to school or volunteered in the “Toxic Cloud” Exposure Zone have yet to register with the World Trade Center Health Program. Even if you moved out of the city, if you were exposed to the toxic chemicals following 9/11 and you have a diagnosis, you may be eligible for funds from the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.