Someone Else Died This Week

Someone Else Died This Week

Someone you should know.

Jerri Nielsen FitzGerald

Jerri Nielsen FitzGerald, who died on June 23 aged 57, was dramatically rescued from the South Pole 10 years ago after diagnosing and treating her own breast cancer.

In the winter of 1999 she was the sole doctor among 41 research staff at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, run by the US National Science Foundation, when she discovered a lump in her breast, and lymph nodes appeared under her arm. Although at first she kept her condition to herself, the burden eventually became too much to bear.

Rescue was out of the question – because of the extreme weather conditions, the station is closed to the outside world for the winter. Jerri Nielsen (as she then was) had no choice but to treat the disease herself. She trained colleagues to care for her, and was in communication by email and via teleconference with doctors based in the United States.

Jerri Nielsen, an accident and emergency doctor based in Cleveland, Ohio, performed a biopsy on herself with the help of non-medical staff, who practised using needles on a raw chicken. A machinist on the base helped her with her IV and test slides, and a welder helped with chemotherapy.

Anti-cancer drugs were parachuted in during a daunting airdrop in July 1999 by the US Air Force in freezing blackout conditions.

In the meantime, as Jerri Nielsen continued with her medical duties, her own doctors in the United States recommended that she return as soon as possible for treatment. “More and more as I am here and see what life really is, I understand that it is not when or how you die but how and if you truly were ever alive,” she wrote in an email to her parents from the South Pole in June 1999.

RTWT, but she also said this:

“Everyone has to get something. Some people are ugly, some people are stupid. I get cancer.”

I like her attitude!

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