“I’m Very Much Alive.” Justice Ginsburg Talks About Her Health With Nina Totenberg | NPR


NINA TOTENBERG: So I thought I would start
actually with Justice Stevens because you just, as we sit here doing this today, you’ve
come from his little service and then his interment, and you were with him a week before
he died in Lisbon, in Portugal. Tell me about that. RUTH BADER GINSBURG: It was wonderful. I got to drive with Justice Stevens most of
the time because I was the second-eldest person attending the conference. He was in the best of humor in the morning. The morning was all talk — the conference
— and as he is on the bench — he’s not a big talker — but what he, when he does
speak, it’s really worth listening to. And he was enjoying whatever we did. Some of the drives were rather long. We were stuck in traffic, and it was, it was warm. He never complained. And he regaled us with stories his memory
— and in one incident, he said, “In such, in such case, it was a dozen or so years ago,
I circulated my draft, and you said that a certain footnote was over the top and I shouldn’t
include it, and I agree with you. You were right, and I took it out.” [Laughs.] To remember, to remember things like that… TOTENBERG: So you were driving with him. In your remarks today, in your remarks, you
— in one of these — as you left the ambassador’s residence with him, you said, you said something
to him — what your dream was. GINSBURG: Yes, I said that my dream is that
I will stay at the court as long as he did. And his immediate response was “Stay longer.” TOTENBERG: So which brings me to this, the
main subject of our conversation. You have had surgery for cancer three times in your adult life. Just about like clockwork every 10 years. But the cancer that you were treated for this
past year — and when you had surgery for lung cancer — it was the first time that
you did it without your husband, Marty, and that must have been very different and difficult. GINSBURG: It was. My first two cancer bouts — both colorectal
cancer at Washington Hospital Center and pancreatic cancer at Sloan Kettering — Marty stayed with me. He stayed with me in the hospital sleeping on an uncomfortable couch despite his bad back. And I knew that someone was there who really
cared about me and would make sure that things didn’t go wrong. There was one day during colon cancer bout
when I was getting a blood transfusion and Marty saw that something was very wrong and
he immediately yanked the needle out of me. It turned out that there was a mismatch not
in the type of blood but in some antigen. I might not have lived, it, if he hadn’t been there, so. And he encouraged me. When they sent a physical therapist to get
me to walk and to do whatever exercise regime they had, I didn’t want to do it. I was exhausted. And Marty said, “You do it.” And he was quite insistent about that. So to have his loving care and yet his determination
that I do what was necessary to heal faster, it was hard to be alone. TOTENBERG: So I know that you, it was hard
to be alone and it was. You have many people who love you that you
don’t know love you, that, in the greater world, but you have children who love you
and friends who love you. But you are a solo act in a way these days. You, you know, you more or less live by yourself,
and you have to take care of yourself. GINSBURG: Well, one big help, my children. During the recovery period, one child or another
visited every weekend, and Jane and James were tremendously supportive also. My granddaughter the lawyer, Clara, visited. So I did have the support of my family, and
that was important, and again encouraging me to do what I was supposed to do in the
case of lung cancer — I was supposed to walk a lot. I think starting with a quarter of a mile
and then a half a mile, then a mile — some of it I could do on the treadmill. TOTENBERG: And how did you do your work? GINSBURG: The work is really what saved me,
because I had to concentrate on reading the brief, doing a draft of an opinion, and I
knew that had to get done. So I had to get past whatever my aches and
pains were — just do the job. TOTENBERG: You know you’re not in the same
position as somebody like me. You’re a very public figure, and at the same
time you have the natural human instinct to — your health is your own business. So how do you think that through? GINSBURG: I might have preferred to keep my
condition to myself, but I realized that because I’m a public figure, I could help make things
a little better for people who were in my situation with regard to their health by saying what I was experiencing. And I think it would — it gave people courage
and hope and made them feel less alone to hear somebody else who’s gone through, gone
through, the same experience. So I think it was good. In the colorectal cancer case, I did a public
service advertisement with my surgeon, with Dr. Lee Smith. TOTENBERG: When you had colorectal cancer
and that was your, was your first rodeo so to speak, you said that Marty did all kinds
of things to raise your spirits. What did he do? GINSBURG: As soon as I came home, I could
eat again. He made wonderful meals for me. We went to, we walked around Georgetown. We walked to the Phillips Collection. We did some of my favorite things. Marty had a wonderful sense of humor, as you know. TOTENBERG: You said he read to you. What did he read to you? GINSBURG: Yes. [Laughs.] Well for one thing, he was my clipping service with the New York Times and the Post. I miss him every morning because I have no
one to go through the paper and pick out what I should read. TOTENBERG: Did he read you from books? GINSBURG: Yes. One Tolstoy story that should not have been
read, but there was only time for a short story that I don’t remember where we were going. It’s about how much room does a man need. This is very the principal figure is avaricious,
and he wants to acquire more and more land. And then at the end from all of his activity
he drops dead, and how much room does a man need to set up space to be buried? [Laughs.] TOTENBERG: You do realize — as my editors
wanted to ask you this — that when you, you, get a cold or a hangnail, there’s a substantial
portion of the population — a large part of it female but men too — who go into a complete panic? GINSBURG: Well, some are not panics. Some. There was a senator — I think it was after
the pancreatic cancer — who announced with great glee that I was going to be dead within six months. That senator, whose name I’ve forgotten, is now himself dead, [Laughs.] and I am very much alive.

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