Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes First Public Appearance Since Announcing Surprise Cancer Treatment

The recent treatment marked the second time within a year that Ginsburg has had cancer — and her second bout with pancreatic cancer

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is back in the public eye just days after the court revealed she’d been treated for pancreatic cancer.

On Monday Ginsburg, 86, made her first public appearance since the surprise announcement when she accepted an honorary degree at the University at Buffalo School of Law.

In her speech, Ginsburg said the occasion was one of both “joy and sorrow” as she mourned the late Wayne Wisbaum, who had invited her to visit the school in July 2018.

“A joy because a bright and caring young man in the class below mine at Cornell University, Wayne Wisbaum, was both a strong supporter of the University of Buffalo and its law school and a prominent member of the Western New York legal community,” she said. “A sorrow because Wayne did not live to be with us today.”

Ginsburg also touched on her own health problems as she discussed those of Wisbaum, who died in January.

“In July 2018 Wayne wrote to me that his health disabled him from [making] the arrangements for my visit here, but he still hoped to attend all the events,” she said. “He asked me to confirm that I would come to Buffalo in August 2019 in any event. I did so immediately, and I did not withdraw when my own health problems presented challenges.”

Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Jeffrey T Barnes/AP/Shutterstock

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A Supreme Court spokeswoman announced on Friday that Ginsburg had finished a three-week course of radiation therapy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Center in New York City for a localized malignant tumor on her pancreas.

The treatment marked the second time within a year that Ginsburg has had cancer — and her second bout with pancreatic cancer.

She previously underwent surgery in December to have two malignant modules removed from her left lung. This time, she began her treatment, done as an outpatient, on Aug. 5, days after it was discovered, the court said.

Ginsburg did not seem to have lost her sense of humor amid her ailments, as she joked in her speech on Monday about the many photo opportunities that present themselves to her.

“It was beyond my wildest imagination that I would one day become the ‘Notorious RBG,’ ” she joked to much applause, referring to a nickname given to her in recent years. “I am now 86 years old, yet people of all ages want to take their picture with me. Amazing.”

After speaking, she also sat for a Q&A discussion with the law school dean, Aviva Abramovsky.

In a statement last week, the court said Ginsburg had “tolerated treatment well.”

“She cancelled her annual summer visit to Santa Fe, but has otherwise maintained an active schedule. The tumor was treated definitively and there is no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body. Justice Ginsburg will continue to have periodic blood tests and scans. No further treatment is needed at this time,” the court’s statement read.

Ginsburg has also survived colon cancer and she recovered from three broken ribs after a fall in 2018, which led to the discovery of the modules on her lung.

Just hours before her radiation therapy was announced, Ginsburg attended a showing of Moulin Rouge! on Broadway and seemed in good spirits, a source in attendance told PEOPLE.

The source saw her “walk up a full flight of stairs with assistance” — a sign of strength. “I even need help with that sometimes!” the source said.

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