Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Jackie and Jerri

You may have heard about the death on Tuesday of Jerri Nielsen Fitzgerald (1952-2009), the physician (pictured, bottom) who spent a year at the scientific station at the South Pole, during which she discovered, biopsied, and treated a lump she found in her breast. Although she couldn't be airlifted out, the National Science Foundation airlifted supplies - anti-cancer drugs and an ultrasound machine (which unfortunately shattered) - to her when the tumor was diagnosed via computer as an aggressive form of cancer. Her extraction from Antarctica in October 1999, after she had injected her own hormone therapy and chemotherapy (and had sadly acquired a number of infections), was the earliest in the station's history. She had a mastectomy, but the cancer came out of remission in 2005 and spread to her liver, bones, and brain. Dr. Fitzgerald died in Massachusetts on Tuesday.
But did you also know that Edith "Jackie" Ronne (1919-2009) - the first American woman to set foot in Antarctica - died in Maryland a week ago Sunday? Ronne (pictured, above) grudgingly accepted a last-minute invitation from her husband Finn to accompany him for 15 months in 1947. She insisted that Jennie Darlington, wife of the expedition's pilot also join them, and they became the first two women to overwinter in the Antarctic (although they stopped speaking to each other when the team divided into factions during their stay). Ronne assisted the seismologist, released dispatches to the New York Times, and kept a daily diary. The scientific mission was a success, proving that Antarctica was a single continent after exploring 250,000 square miles, but she vowed never to go back - only to break that vow in 1957 and again in 1971. Ronne, whose husband had passed away in 1980, died of Alzheimer's Disease and cancer.
Jerri published an autobiographical account of her story, as did Jackie, whose book is out-of-print. A copy of Finn's autobiography, signed and inscribed by Jackie, is available. Both women also inspired films, a TV movie in Jerri's case and a documentary about Jackie. Rest in peace, ladies.

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