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Dr. Jerri FitzGerald Survives the South Pole But Not Cancer

25 Jun

There are a handful of places on Earth that are as isolated as being on the moon. Where your chances of rescue are about the same as being rescued from the Sea of Tranquility. One of these places is the South Pole. This was the situation that confronted Dr. Jerri FitzGerald in 1999. The only physician at the station, she discovered a lump in her breast. As if that wasn’t frightening enough, her discovery occurred just weeks after the final flight of the season had departed. No chance of rescue for at least 6 months.

She performed her own biopsy, with the assistance of a member of the team who was a welder, using a local anesthetic and ice to kill the pain of the procedure. The biopsy proved to be positive for breast cancer. This was in March of 1999, the station shut down for winter, no flights in or go out until November. It was decided that she would have to delay treatment until that time.

However the cancer proved to be aggressive and grew much more rapidly than anticipated and she apparently developed large lymph nodes in her armpit. These changes in her condition indicated that treatment had to began quickly. The problem was getting the medications to her. In July, the U.S. Air Force staged a middle-of-the-night, middle-of-the-winter, very rare and dangerous airdrop to an ice field lit by fire. God bless our military. This is the kind of stuff that only James Bond could do.

She began the treatment regimen immediately and was evacuated when spring arrived to continue treatment. Her cancer went into remission but unfortunately returned in 2005. Now there is the report of her death this past Tuesday. This is a heroic story by all those involved not the least of which was Dr. Jerri Fitzgerald.

25jerrispan

LA Times Story

New York Times Story

 

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