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Doctor who operated on herself loses cancer fight

Published 25/06/2009

Dr Jerri Nielsen FitzGerald, who diagnosed and treated her own breast cancer before a dramatic rescue from the South Pole, has died, her husband said yesterday. She was 57.

Her husband, Thomas FitzGerald, said she died on Tuesday at their home in Southwick, Massachusetts. Her cancer had been in remission until it returned in August 2005, he said.

She was the only doctor at the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in winter 1999 when she discovered a lump in her breast. Extreme cold didn't permit a rescue, so with guidance from US based doctors via the internet, she performed a biopsy on herself with the help of staff.

She treated herself with anti-cancer drugs delivered during a mid-July airdrop by a US Air Force plane in blackout, freezing conditions, until she could be rescued by the Air National Guard in October.

She documented her ordeal in her book Ice Bound: A Doctor's Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole. It was made into a TV movie.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by her parents, two brothers and three children.

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