She was the only doctor among 41 staff at the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in winter 1999 when she discovered a lump in her breast. At first, she didn't tell anyone, but the burden became too much to bear.
''I got really sick,'' she told The Associated Press in a 2003 interview. ''I had great big lymph nodes under my arm. I thought I would die.''
Rescue was out of the question. Because of the extreme weather conditions, the station is closed to the outside world for the winter. She had no choice but to treat the disease herself, with help from colleagues she trained to care for her and U.S.-based doctors she stayed in touch with via satellite e-mail.
She performed a biopsy on herself with the help of staff.
A machinist helped her with her IV and test slides, and a welder helped with chemotherapy.
She treated herself with anti-cancer drugs delivered during a gripping mid-July airdrop by a U.S. Air Force plane in blackout, freezing conditions.
In a headline grabbing rescue, she was lifted by the Air National Guard in October, one of the earliest flights ever into the station when it became warm enough -- 58 degrees below zero -- to make the risky flight.
After multiple surgeries in the U.S., including a mastectomy, the cancer went into remission until 2005.
''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 e-mail to her parents in June, 1999 from the South Pole.
Nielsen FitzGerald never lost her adventurous spirit and even returned to desolate Antarctica several more times....
Rest in peace, woman of courage.