The Impact of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Life on the Cancer Community

By Rachel Koonse, LMFT and Miranda Johnson

September 21, 2020

This past Friday, September 18, 2020, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at the age of 87 due to complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer. The “Notorious RBG” – as she came to be affectionately known – was a bold revolutionary.

The second woman to sit on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg was a strong advocate for gender equality. Over the course of her 27 years as a Justice, she delivered “some of the Supreme Court’s most influential majority opinions” (Blakemore, 2020). Ginsburg was also one of only 9 women in a class of 500 students studying law at Harvard University. Despite an impeccable professional and academic record, Ginsburg faced barriers towards gaining employment as a woman in a male-dominated field. By 1970, Ginsburg founded The Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first law journal in the U.S. focusing on gender equality issues, and became the first woman to receive tenure as a professor at Columbia University Law School. She went on to create the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, served on the national board of the ACLU, and argued several cases of sex discrimination before the Supreme Court. Ginsburg served for 13 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals before being appointed to the Supreme Court by Bill Clinton in 1993. Throughout her career, she argued for equal citizenship status for men and women, propelled university admission rights for women, fought for rights for women with disabilities, argued against wage discrimination, and supported LGBTQ rights.

Ginsburg was impacted by cancer several times throughout her life. Before Ruth Bader graduated from high school, her mother – Celia Bader – died of cancer. While studying at Harvard Law School along with her husband, Marty Ginsburg, Ruth and Marty both learned that he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer. Ruth was Marty’s caregiver as he underwent surgeries and radiation. In a 1993 interview with NPR, Marty said, “So that left Ruth with a 3-year-old child, a fairly sick husband, the law review, classes to attend and feeding me” (Totenberg, 2020).

Ginsburg herself was first diagnosed with colon cancer in 1999. In 2009, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In 2018, she received the news that she had lung cancer. And in 2019, she was diagnosed with a metastatic recurrence of pancreatic cancer.

As an organization that provides social and emotional support to people who are impacted by cancer, CSCP finds the toll that cancer had on Ginsburg’s life and on her family to be a sobering reminder of the ever-present need for support when facing a cancer diagnosis. In spite of the profound impact that it had on her and her family, Ginsburg did not allow her cancer experience to define the totality of her life. RBG famously said, “Justice O’Connor told me, ‘Now you do the chemotherapy on Friday because you’ll get over it during the weekend and you can be back in court on Monday.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s work was her life’s meaning.

In a similar way, CSCP can provide hope, purpose, and meaning amidst a cancer diagnosis. In our support groups, classes, and workshops, our members can be candid about their cancer experience, while also forging ahead towards new horizons, just as RBG did.

Works Cited

Blakemore, Erin. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice Since 1993, Dies at 87,” uploaded by, 18 Sept. 2020,

Kinstler, Everett Raymond. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 1996. National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Biography- Academy of Achievement. (September 18, 2020). Retrieved September 21, 2020 from

Totenberg, Nina. “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Champion of Gender Equality, Dies at 87,” uploaded by NPR, 18 Sept. 2020,