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Robin Roberts Faces New Cancer Challenge

By June 11, 2012

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The five-year mark for a breast cancer patient is a special date. It usually marks the end of hormone therapy and the completion of active treatment. Many of us bid farewell to our oncologist and go forth into a cancer-free future. I'm sure that's what Robin Roberts, co-anchor of "Good Morning America" was hoping for at her 5-year checkup, but it didn't happen. Instead, she was told that the chemo drugs which saved her life from breast cancer had caused another life-threatening problem: myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Myelodysplasia is a rare blood condition -- and while it isn't actually cancer, it can develop into leukemia if left untreated.

Chemotherapy drugs work by attacking fast-growing cells in the body -- and blood cells fit neatly into that description. In Roberts' case, the chemo apparently permanently damaged cells in her blood stream. Cells have a natural life cycle: they grow, divide, and die off. Healthy new blood cells replace the healthy old blood cells that have finished their job, so a constant blood supply is maintained. Myelodysplasia is a condition in which damaged blood cells don't live out their normal life span and don't replace themselves with an equal number of new cells. This leaves the body with fewer red cells than normal - anemia, or fewer white cells than is healthy - neutropenia. Myelodysplasia makes a person easily fatigued, at greater risk of infections, and since fewer platelets are produced - in danger of bleeding that is difficult to stop, since the clotting capability of the blood stream is reduced. Just about 5% of all breast cancer patients who took chemo may develop myelodysplasia, but if MDS runs in your family, tell your oncologist before starting treatment.

Robin Roberts announced her diagnosis on GMA today, with tears and thanks: her sister has undergone genetic testing and will be Robin's bone marrow donor. Myelodysplasia is treated by bone marrow transplant, given after special chemo preparations are given to kill off all of the patient's defective blood cells. It is a rigorous treatment regime - my sister had a bone marrow transplant for MDS just last year - and the body can go to war with itself when the transplanted cells are infused into a patient's bone marrow. There is the risk of graft versus host disease (GVHD) - if your body' immune system attacks the donor cells, it becomes a war within your bone marrow. The good news is this: Roberts is 51 - young enough and healthy enough to withstand treatment and with better odds of conquering myelodysplasia. Patients who are children or relatively young adults have between a 30 - 50% cure rate from a bone marrow transplant. Having a close relative as a donor improves the odds, so having her sister Sally-Ann Roberts as a genetic match is a great blessing.

Roberts will soon have a PICC line placed in her arm, to make blood draws, transfusions, and chemotherapy treatments easier on her and her healthcare team. Intravenous catheters can protect your veins from chemical damage and cut down on repeated needle sticks due to rolling veins. It's likely that she will begin regular chemotherapy treatments aimed at killing off the damaged blood cells before her bone marrow transplant, so if you don't see her on GMA in her regular spot, don't worry. She will be starting a new routine, with a treatment schedule and side effects that will be different than those she has already endured.

Robin Roberts is an icon of strength, a brave and beautiful model of a public figure that refuses to hide her health ordeal or pretend that things are just fine. She and her sister are soon to share a very close bond - those special shared marrow cells - and bring greater awareness to bone marrow donation. She spoke about her situation, saying, "Bottom line: I've been living with this diagnosis for awhile and will continue to anchor GMA.  I love what I do and the people with whom I do it.  Along with my faith, family and friends, all of you at ABC News give me the motivation and energy to face this challenge." Many people followed her very public fight with breast cancer which she recalled, "When I faced breast cancer, your prayers and good wishes sustained me, gave me such hope and played a major role in my recovery.  In facing this new challenge, I ask humbly for more of your prayers and love - as I will keep you in my mine and update you regularly on my condition." Best wishes to Robin Roberts - one tough and wonderful lady.

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June 11, 2012 at 11:02 pm
(1) Alice says:

What a beautiful and brave woman. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. I have no doubt you will come out on top with your great sense of humor and wit. God bless your sister. What a precious gift to give……the gift of life….love and prayers be with you

June 11, 2012 at 11:19 pm
(2) Jackie says:

My prayers are with this beautiful woman….I love watching and listening to her in the mornings; she has the most positive and upbeat personality!

June 12, 2012 at 2:40 am
(3) Jill Manos says:

You are a strong woman and I know you will be a survivor just like you survived your first bout with cancer. I am following you and praying for you and your family. I was diagnosed with agressive breast cancer in 2011 and you are an inspiration to me. God bless you and my prayers are with you.

June 12, 2012 at 3:44 am
(4) Rosie says:

I am positive you will heal if you believe! God be with you pretty lady!

June 12, 2012 at 5:50 am
(5) scallywag says:

First breast cancer in 2007, and now this. It must have been a wonderful feeling to have beaten cancer back then and now to have to deal with the grind with treatment, the fear of the unknown, the trepidation of recovery and yet what can anyone do. Could you imagine the frustration? This disease goes beyond race, faith, class or whatever, ultimately it’s a test of will, resolve and the nature of science. Robin will elevate herself again, she has no choice but to do so…


June 12, 2012 at 3:01 pm
(6) Patricia Guanio says:

My prayers each night will include a successful treatment for you.God bless you and your sister.My son has just given my daughter,his sister, a kidney.We are one month post operation and with all the prayers they are doing well.Those prayers are now for you Robin, G.M.A.would not be the same without you so you are going to beat this.

June 12, 2012 at 4:03 pm
(7) BMW says:

God bless you Robin. Stay strong and keep exercising. I think exercise is the simple key to all of these illnesses along with Chinese meds. I for one and for personal reasons will be glad when chemo and all these poisons are no longer used. Flood your body with food nutrients and LOOK INTO RHUBARB’S HEALTH BENEFITS! PLEASE!

June 13, 2012 at 10:49 am
(8) Suzanne Houlden says:

Thank you to BMW !!! This is exactly the type of info I was looking for in this article, but found it in the comments instead. I’m currently undergoing chemo for early stage breast cancer and want to protect my bones and bone marrow.

June 13, 2012 at 11:03 am
(9) Nora Quiason says:

Robin Roberts inspires all of us to face life with love, equanimity, and hope. Thank you for sharing.

June 13, 2012 at 11:47 am
(10) Linda in Seattle says:

God bless Robin Roberts! May His healing light shine down on her throughout her treatment and recovery!

You are an inspiration, Robin, to all breast cancer survivors–with your openness and optimism. May you stay strong throughout your current battle; many prayers are with you!

June 13, 2012 at 1:42 pm
(11) Verna says:

I had a PICC in my arm in order to get chemo. Make sure the tube is in the correct spot. Mine was put to close to my heart and caused it to flutter every time I laid on my left side.

June 13, 2012 at 8:26 pm
(12) Cassandra says:

Dear Fellow Surviror,

From one survivor to another, here we go again. Hang in there. We are conquerers. Our belief that GOD WILL SEE US THROUGH, and the support of family, relatives and friends is also the thread that keeps us grounded, and connected.

Forever remember Jeremiah 29:11. It ain’t over. My prayers are with you always.


June 13, 2012 at 9:30 pm
(13) Debra says:

You are such a strong and beautiful woman! I know God will watch over you and take care of you throughout this next battle you are facing. Your strength, faith, outlook and positive attitude along with your loving sister’s donation will bring you through and come out on the other end healthy and well! I love watching you in the mornings. I am a cancer survivor and watching and listening to you encourages me to keep fighting and keep my faith. You are an inspiration to millions all over the world! Stay strong, and know you will be in my prayers. God Bless you!!

June 22, 2012 at 7:50 am
(14) Jean says:

What an inspiration to all of us who have undergone treatment for breast cancer. She is strong and so vibrant and gives encouragement to all cancer survivors. Hang in there, Robin – know you are in our throughts and prayers.

July 5, 2012 at 11:56 pm
(15) alice says:

after learning of my cancer diagnosis a friend gave me the magazine article in which you wrote about your wonderful family and especially the deep faith that your mother has inspired in your family. Have kept that article and feel as though your mother is also speaking to me and many others to always walk in faith and not in sight. My daily prayers will you, your sister, and the GMA family as I know the feeling of “lifting” above dark clouds that prayers can bring to believers and to insure the hands of our caregivers are also guided by our Heavenly Father…walking with you…Alice

August 30, 2012 at 8:46 am
(16) Elder Curtis & Maureen Moody says:

and Kingdom of God in Christ………..Hattiesburg, MS and The Moody’s

August 31, 2012 at 12:16 am
(17) stacey says:

It is not my first time to go to see this web page,
i am visiting this web page dailly and get nice facts from here everyday.

September 20, 2012 at 11:08 pm
(18) marsha moore says:

Dear Robin, I just wanted to leave a (my prayers are with you.) also for your selfless, Godly sister to give of herself. l am looking forward to seeing you soon on your show, with the Lords fast recovery. GOD speed, GOD BLESS U. Lov & prayers 2 u, just a viewer, marsha

November 26, 2012 at 8:00 pm
(19) Dawn Parsons says:

Robin you are such a great strong women. My husband will be going thru a bone marrow transplant on Dec. 18th and you have giving me more strength to help us get thru all of this. Our family are wearing your bracelets for you and my husband. God Bless and stay strong….:)

April 25, 2013 at 10:41 pm
(20) Brigitte says:

I went over this website and I think you have lots of excellent information,
saved to faves.

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