Scott and Amundsen — Meet Dr. Nielsen

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She’ll probably be the subject of one of those hokey made-for-TV movies. Not that Dr. Jerri Nielsen, the sole physician at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, is likely to cooperate with the network bigwigs. Nielsen, trapped at the station by the fierce Antarctic winter, has become famous for reportedly having found a lump in her breast and for treating herself with chemotherapy drugs dropped to the isolated settlement in a daring air mission. She's also made it clear that she's not keen on having every detail of her plight made public — specifics of her condition have been withheld at her request. But that hasn't stopped her saga from being documented and updated almost hourly on CNN, MSNBC et al since it first broke in June. There has been a distinct lack of specifics in the reporting: At this point, it’s not known for certain whether Nielsen actually has cancer, although the urgency surrounding the rescue mission has led some to expect the worst.

And now there is to be an attempt at a landing and a rescue. On Tuesday, two giant Hercules cargo planes were due to arrive on the Antarctic coast, biding time until the temperatures climb to at least -50 F for the journey to the interior. In those (relatively) balmy conditions, the planes will be able to make their 1,600-mile round trip to the research station. The pilots will have little time for pleasantries; the craft are expected to land for no more than 30 minutes, during which they’ll pick up Nielsen and drop off her replacement. After the rescue, Nielsen is due to be flown back to the U.S. for further diagnosis and treatment. Then she — and maybe we — will learn her prognosis. Why the intense interest in this story? Blame it all on Mother Nature. These days, with technology allowing man almost complete coverage of the globe, Antarctica in winter provides one of the few remaining impenetrable frontiers. Just like the public fascination with the polar exploits of Scott and Amundsen at the turn of the century, the frozen continent continues to find ways to grip the imagination.