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Front page of Antarctic Sun, Oct. 24, 1999.
Photo Graphic: Peter Rejcek

RIP Dr. Jerri Nielsen

Former South Pole winter-over doctor who fought
breast cancer dies at age 57

Dr. Jerri Nielsen Fitzgerald, the former South Pole Station External U.S. government site physician who was diagnosed with breast cancer during the middle of the Antarctic winter, succumbed to the disease on June 23, 2009. She was 57. Nielsen made headlines around the world 10 years ago when she discovered a lump in her breast during the dead of the polar winter. The weather conditions too cold for a rescue, the National Science Foundation (NSF) External U.S. government site organized an airdrop in July 1999 to deliver medical supplies. With the help of her fellow winter-over Polies, Nielsen received treatment until the New York Air National Guard landed at South Pole on Oct. 16, several weeks earlier than normal, to evacuate her. She later wrote a book about her experience, Ice Bound, which was eventually made into a movie starring Susan Sarandon. Nielsen's cancer went into remission until 2005, when it first attacked her liver and bones, and later her brain.

“I’m not afraid of death. I’ve come to accept it as being part of life, and I think I’ve come to accept it earlier than my years because of what’s happened to me,” Nielsen told Psychology Today magazine in 2006 after her cancer had returned.

Statement from NSF Director Arden Bement External U.S. government site.

Previous coverage: The Antarctic Sun, Oct. 24, 1999 Link to PDF file.