Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivers a clear message regarding her cancer battle, following the advice of the opera singer Marilyn Horne: “ ‘I will live,’ not that ‘I hope I live,’ or ‘I want to live’ – but ‘I will live.’ ”
The 86-year-old United Supreme Court Associate Justice on Aug. 23 completed a three-week course of stereotactic ablative radiation therapy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
The treatment began Aug. 5 and was administered on an outpatient basis to treat a tumor on her pancreas.
Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), also known as stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), is a highly focused radiation treatment that gives an intense dose of radiation concentrated on a tumor while limiting the dose to the surrounding organs. (1)
The tumor was detected after a routine blood test in early July, according to a statement from the Supreme Court. A biopsy performed on July 31 confirmed a localized malignant tumor. As part of her treatment, a stent was placed in her bile duct.
There is no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body, and Ginsburg will continue to have periodic blood tests and scans.
According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 1.6 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at some point during their lifetime, based on 2013-15 data. For 2011-15 cases and deaths, the number of new cases of pancreatic cancer was 12.6 per 100,000 men and women per year. The number of deaths was 10.9 per 100,000 men and women per year. (2)
In 2018, there were an estimated 44,330 deaths from pancreatic cancer, which accounted for 7.3% of all cancer deaths. The 5-year survival rate for the various stage of pancreatic cancer range from 34.3% (Stage I) to 5.5% (Stage IV).
The treatment comes just months after Ginsburg was operated on for lung cancer last December. She has been treated for cancer in various forms over the past 20 years.
Ginsburg spoke on Saturday at the Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. She said she would be prepared for the start of the Supreme Court’s term in October, noting her work on the Supreme Court has helped her get through cancer.
“Instead of concentrating on my aches and pains, I just know that I have to read this set of briefs, go over the draft opinion,” she said. “And so, I have to somehow surmount whatever is going on in my body and concentrate on the Court’s work.” (3)
Shortly before her new round of treatment, Ginsburg sat for an interview with NPR, and her resilience was on full display.
“There was a senator, I think it was after my pancreatic cancer, who announced with great glee that I was going to be dead within six months,” she said. “That senator, whose name I have forgotten, is now himself dead, and I,” she added with a smile, “am very much alive.” (4)
(1) Stereotactic Ablative Radiotherapy (SABR/SBRT). https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-treatments/s/stereotactic-body-radiation-therapy.html
(2) Cancer Stat Facts: Pancreatic Cancer. National Cancer Institute. https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/pancreas.html
(3) Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I’m alive and ‘on my way to being very well’ after treatment for pancreatic cancer https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/31/politics/ruth-bader-ginsburg-library-of-congress-cancer-treatment/index.html
(4) Justice Ginsburg: ‘I Am Very Much Alive.’ https://www.npr.org/2019/07/24/744633713/justice-ginsburg-i-am-very-much-alive