"The work is really what saved me," the Supreme Court Justice told NPR this week

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
| Credit: Alex Wong/Getty

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at 86, has survived three bouts with cancer — and outlived some of the critics who have happily predicted not just her resignation but her death.

“There was a senator, I think it was after my pancreatic cancer [in 2009], who announced with great glee that I was going to be dead within six months,” Ginsburg, the anchor of the court’s liberal wing, recalled to NPR in an interview published Tuesday.

“That senator, whose name I have forgotten, is now himself dead — and I am very much alive,” she said during a wide-ranging conversation including her views on the court’s independence, her health struggles and her perseverance.

In 1999, she had surgery to treat colorectal cancer before having to undergo nine months of chemotherapy and radiation, according to NPR. Then, in 2009, she had another surgery for pancreatic cancer.

More recently, in November, she was hospitalized after a fall in her office broke three of her ribs. While treating the fractures, doctors found two cancerous nodules in her lungs. In December, she had a third surgery to remove the malignant growths.

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The lung nodules was the first cancer diagnosis she faced without husband Marty by her side, after he died from his own cancer in 2010.

“I miss him every morning,” Ginsburg told NPR, remembering her husband bringing her newspaper clippings that he knew she’d like. “I have no one to go through the papers and pick out what I should read.”

Ginsburg told NPR that its the work that “saved” her during her health struggles.

“The work is really what saved me,” she said. “Because I had to concentrate on reading the briefs, doing a draft of an opinion, and I knew it had to get done. So I had to get past whatever my aches and pains were just to do the job.”

Elsewhere in her interview, she told NPR she believes Democratic plans to expand the number of justices on the court would threaten the idea of its independence and impartiality, which is crucial to its influence in upholding laws.

“We are blessed in the way no other judiciary in the world is,” she explained. “We have life tenure. The only way to get rid of a federal judge is by impeachment. Congress can’t retaliate by reducing our salary, so the safeguards for judicial independence in this country, I think, are as great or greater than anyplace else in the world.”