Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor giving testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Full committee hearing on "Ensuring Judicial Independence Through Civics Education" on July 25, 2012 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/ Karen BLEIER        (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/GettyImages)
KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor giving testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Full committee hearing on "Ensuring Judicial Independence Through Civics Education" on July 25, 2012 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/ Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/GettyImages)
Now playing
01:45
Sandra Day O'Connor reveals dementia diagnosis
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., questions witnesses during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Washington.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., questions witnesses during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Washington.
Now playing
02:59
Women detail late-night parties with Gaetz
President Joe Biden arrives to speak from the Treaty Room in the White House on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, about the withdrawal of the remainder of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Andrew Harnik/Pool/AP
President Joe Biden arrives to speak from the Treaty Room in the White House on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, about the withdrawal of the remainder of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Now playing
02:44
See Biden make historic announcement on US troops in Afghanistan
Avril Haines
POOL
Avril Haines
Now playing
01:09
DNI director gives two primary theories of where Covid-19 transmitted initially
THE BACHELORETTE - Fan favorite Becca Kufrin captured America's heart when she found herself at the center of one of the most gut-wrenching Bachelor breakups of all time. Now the Minnesota girl next door returns for a second shot at love and gets to hand out the roses, searching for her happily-ever-after in the 14th edition of ABC's hit series "The Bachelorette," premiering MONDAY, MAY 28 (8:00-10:01 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (ABC/Craig Sjodin)
COLTON
Craig Sjodin/ABC
THE BACHELORETTE - Fan favorite Becca Kufrin captured America's heart when she found herself at the center of one of the most gut-wrenching Bachelor breakups of all time. Now the Minnesota girl next door returns for a second shot at love and gets to hand out the roses, searching for her happily-ever-after in the 14th edition of ABC's hit series "The Bachelorette," premiering MONDAY, MAY 28 (8:00-10:01 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (ABC/Craig Sjodin) COLTON
Now playing
01:24
Former 'Bachelor' star says he is gay
american airlines plane preparations summer travel muntean pkg vpx_00000000.png
american airlines plane preparations summer travel muntean pkg vpx_00000000.png
Now playing
03:10
American Airlines prepares for summer travel demand surge
Family Photo/Getty Images
Now playing
04:11
Former officer charged with 2nd-degree manslaughter in Daunte Wright killing
Pool
Now playing
03:02
Use-of-force expert says Chauvin's actions were 'justified'
CNN
Now playing
01:06
Dr. Gupta: Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause will fuel hesitancy
CNN
Now playing
02:02
Daunte Wright's mom emotionally recounts her son's death
Barbers from King's Cutz give haircuts indoors while observing COVID-19 safety restrictions on March 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Barbers from King's Cutz give haircuts indoors while observing COVID-19 safety restrictions on March 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
Now playing
01:43
US consumer prices increased in March
screengrab japan fukushima daiichi
IAEA
screengrab japan fukushima daiichi
Now playing
02:31
Japan plans to release treated Fukushima water into sea
BROOKLYN CENTER, MINNESOTA - APRIL 12: Demonstrators face off with police officers outside of the Brooklyn Center police station on April 12, 2021 in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. People have taken to the streets to protest after Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter during a traffic stop yesterday.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson/Getty Images
BROOKLYN CENTER, MINNESOTA - APRIL 12: Demonstrators face off with police officers outside of the Brooklyn Center police station on April 12, 2021 in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. People have taken to the streets to protest after Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter during a traffic stop yesterday. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:14
Protests break out over the shooting of Daunte Wright
Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations looks on during a meeting with US President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval office of the White House October 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. - Nikki Haley resigned Tuesday as the US ambassador to the United Nations, in the latest departure from President Donald Trump's national security team. Meeting Haley in the Oval Office, Trump said that Haley had done a "fantastic job" and would leave at the end of the year. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images
Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations looks on during a meeting with US President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval office of the White House October 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. - Nikki Haley resigned Tuesday as the US ambassador to the United Nations, in the latest departure from President Donald Trump's national security team. Meeting Haley in the Oval Office, Trump said that Haley had done a "fantastic job" and would leave at the end of the year. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
01:48
Nikki Haley U-turns on 2024 presidential run. An analyst explains why
Multiple agencies are on the scene of a shooting at Austin-East Magnet High School. Multiple gunshot victims reported, including a KPD officer. The investigation remains active at this time. Please avoid the area.
From Knoxville Police TN/Twitter
Multiple agencies are on the scene of a shooting at Austin-East Magnet High School. Multiple gunshot victims reported, including a KPD officer. The investigation remains active at this time. Please avoid the area.
Now playing
02:43
One person dead, officer injured after shooting at Knoxville high school
CNN
Now playing
04:48
Fauci talks about what he is comfortable doing now that he's fully vaccinated
CNN
Now playing
05:40
Unprecedented footage shows front line of Ukrainian conflict with Russia
(CNN) —  

Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the US Supreme Court, opened up about the personal anguish of breast cancer five years after surviving it. Then she went public about the effects of her husband’s Alzheimer’s disease, including his affection for another woman.

Now, perhaps fitting of the pioneering tendency she has shown all around, the 88-year-old retired justice revealed on Tuesday that she is in “the beginning stages of dementia, probably Alzheimer’s disease.”

In the letter written from Phoenix, as she explained that she was no longer participating in public life, she again surmounted the stigma that sometimes comes with illness.

“While the final chapter of my life with dementia may be trying, nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings in my life,” she wrote in the letter released by the Supreme Court.

O’Connor, who became an influential author of decisions on abortion rights, racial affirmative action, criminal procedures, and an array of social dilemmas during her quarter century tenure, also has had a deep personal imprint on American life.

In 1994, when O’Connor first revealed her feelings about surviving the breast cancer discovered in 1988, she observed that people sometimes refused to name the illness, calling it ominously, “the big C.” At the time of her surgery, she had not wanted word of her mastectomy and treatment to be publicly disclosed.

Over time, O’Connor said she realized that sharing her story helped other women and eased her own experience with the illness that remained at the fore of her thinking every day.

“Having this disease made me more aware than ever before of the transitory nature of life here on Earth, of my own life,” she said in a speech to the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship in 1994. “And it made me value each and every day of life more than ever before.”

When O’Connor, a justice since 1981, stepped down in January 2006, her retirement was prompted by the dementia of her husband, John. The couple had met while at Stanford Law School, married in 1952 and raised three sons. John gave up prominence as a Phoenix attorney and moved to Washington when President Ronald Reagan selected the former Arizona state senator and judge for the high court.

Less than two years after her retirement from the bench, O’Connor let it be known that John had found a new romance in his care facility in Arizona, an occurrence not uncommon with Alzheimer patients who forget their spouses.

At the time, O’Connor’s eldest son, Scott, told a local TV station, “Mom was thrilled that Dad was relaxed and happy and comfortable living here and wasn’t complaining.” Alzheimer’s advocates commended Justice O’Connor and her family for raising awareness and reducing the stigma of the disease.

John died in 2009 at age 79.

In recent years, O’Connor had withdrawn from her special projects, including the iCivics program she helped found to teach students about civics principles. She was living in a care facility. The retirement chambers she had maintained at the Supreme Court in Washington was closed out this summer. Retired Justice Anthony Kennedy now occupies the suite.

“I can no longer help lead this cause, due to my physical condition,” O’Connor said of her civics work in the letter released Tuesday. “It is time for new leaders to make civic learning and civic engagement a reality for all.”

The trailblazer concluded, “I hope that I have inspired young people about civic engagement and helped pave the pathway for women who may have faced obstacles pursing their careers.”