Yet Another Accolade: Survivor

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life has been filled with superlatives: feminist icon, Supreme Court Justice, legal trailblazer and, of course, “Notorious RBG.” We have one more to add to that list: cancer survivor.

First diagnosed in 1999, Ginsburg fought against, and beat, cancer for over 20 years. Throughout those years, she continued to advocate for the rights of underrepresented communities from the bench of the Supreme Court all while going through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy and living with the effects of those treatments.

That is a perfect demonstration of what it means to be an inspiration and a survivor.

We can learn a lot from Ginsburg. Traits like compassion, empathy and strength come to mind. But what can we learn from her decades long battle with cancer? A lot, according to Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

It’s not always about where the cancer is, but where it came from.

Most recently, Ginsburg was treated for cancer on her liver. But that did not mean she had liver cancer. Given that she had been previously diagnosed with cancer in three other locations—her colon, pancreas (twice) and lung—the justice had metastatic cancer that has spread to her liver and ultimately claimed her life. Ginsburg was treated with gemcitabine, a chemotherapy drug used to treat pancreatic cancer and lung cancer, but not usually liver cancer.

There’s a difference between recurrent and metastatic cancer.

  • Recurrent cancer occurs when cancer re-emerges in or near the same location where it was previously diagnosed.
  • Metastatic cancer occurs when cancer cells from one location travel to another part of the body and form a tumor.

When cancer travels, or metastasizes, it is still identified by where in the body it originated. So metastatic pancreatic cancer that travels to the liver is still considered pancreatic cancer, not liver cancer. The liver is one of the most common locations where cancer metastases are found.

Cancer is often diagnosed by accident.

It’s not unusual to hear about cases in which doctors detect cancer while treating other conditions or injuries, such as a car accident. In Ginsburg’s case, her previous reported diagnoses came as a result of routine checkups or treatments for other conditions.”

Ginsburg told the world, “I have often said I would remain a member of the Court as long as I can do the job full steam.” Full steam never stopped—that’s what it means to be a survivor.