Justice Ginsburg Returns to the Bench

Solo female justice back to work just weeks after surgery for pancreatic cancer.

ByABC News
February 23, 2009, 11:32 AM

Feb. 23, 2009— -- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to the bench at the Supreme Court today, making her first public appearance since undergoing surgery for pancreatic cancer Feb. 5.

The 75-year-old justice entered smiling, with a nod to the press box, and jumped in several times with questions at oral arguments for a total of two hours.

She looked bright and alert with her usual slightly raspy voice. At one point she amused the audience with a sarcastic question to veteran Supreme Court litigator Carter Phillips, which elicited laughter from the courtroom crowd.

Ginsburg has released two statements on her recent health scare, the latter one confirming the news that a small tumor had been removed from her pancreas revealing stage 1 cancer that had not spread to her lymph nodes.

In 1999, Ginsburg was treated for colon cancer but never missed a day of oral arguments despite aggressive treatments.

Later, she was quoted as saying, "There is nothing like a cancer bout to make one relish the joys of being alive."

Medical experts say Ginsburg was extraordinarily lucky that such a serious cancer was caught at such an early stage. The tumor was found during a routine screening as a follow-up to her earlier cancer.

Ginsburg's return to work came a day after the Louisville Courier-Journal reported that U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., predicted she would likely be dead from the cancer within nine months. Today, the senator apologized for the remarks and wished Ginsburg a speedy recovery.

But Ginsburg has yet to cancel two speaking engagements scheduled for mid-March, and cancer experts told ABCNews.com earlier this month that Ginsburg may have a better chance of surviving than most others with the illness.

The reason for the optimism is that the tumor found in the center of Ginsburg's pancreas was only about 1 centimeter in length, according to a statement from Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City, where surgeons performed the operation to remove it.

A tumor of this size is about as small as is detectable by CT scan, said Dr. Paul Lin, a surgical oncologist specializing in pancreatic cancer at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C.

"She is much more fortunate than most patients, who come in because of symptoms from their cancer," he said.