Robin Roberts diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome

Good Morning America’s anchor beat breast cancer. But doctors knew that the treatments they used could increase her risk of other cancers down the road.
“As many of you know, five years ago, I beat breast cancer” – said a shaky Robin Roberts on Good Morning America Monday morning. “Sometimes treatment for cancer can lead to other serious medical issues and that’s what I’m facing right now.”
Clutching George Stephanopolos’s hand on the sofa next to her, Roberts announced that she has myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a relatively rare blood disease that Roberts herself said she’d never heard of until she was diagnosed with it. Likely even more unfamiliar for many viewers than the name of her condition was Robert’s startling remark that cancer treatment can result in other serious health problems, including different forms of cancer, several years after the initial cancer is in remission.
But in the medical world, it has been known for decades that cancer treatment carries with it the risk of causing another kind of cancer to develop. “We always think of the drug as a double-edged sword, where there is a benefit from the drug and there is a harm from the drug” – says Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. “It’s actually one of the reasons why I’m one of the folks who’s been very outspoken about being conservative and only using chemotherapy when we absolutely need chemotherapy.”

Robin Roberts diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome
Robin Roberts.

On Monday, Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts announced to viewers that she has been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood and bone marrow disease once known as preleukemia. Roberts (who beat breast cancer five years ago) will undergo chemotherapy and then receive a bone marrow transplant.
Roberts’s sister, who is a match for the bone marrow procedure, has agreed to be the donor. Roberts said she and her doctors are confident she will beat the disease.
Roberts (51) was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) in April, on the same day that ABC’s Good Morning America beat NBC‘s Today show in the ratings for the first time in almost 16 years. Then, a few weeks ago, during a procedure in which she was having bone marrow extracted for testing, she heard that she had landed the interview with President Obama in which he would publicly endorse gay marriage. “The combination of landing the biggest interview of my career and having a drill in my back reminds me that God only gives us what we can handle and that it helps to have a good sense of humor when we run smack into the absurdity of life” – Roberts said.
Roberts plans to stay on-air during her treatment and will miss only a few days of work here and there. In a press statement, she writes – “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.”

Roberts said Monday she is beginning chemotherapy treatment for myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, a blood and bone marrow disease once known as preleukemia. She is expected to get a bone marrow transplant sometime this fall.
Her older sister, Sally Ann Roberts, an anchor for WWL-TV in New Orleans, is considered a perfect match to donate marrow and said she will do so.
“My doctors tell me I’m going to beat this, and I know it’s true” – Roberts (51) said on the show Monday.
Sally Ann Roberts said she’s thankful she has marrow her sister can use and that she can assist in her treatment.
“I’m just so very grateful that I did match her because there are many, many people right now who are dying for a match and have no one in their family who are eligible” – Sally Ann Roberts said.
She said her family is now encouraging everyone to sign up to be donors.
“The wonderful thing about being a donor is that it takes so very little” – Sally Ann Roberts said. “I will go through a physical and when … the doctors deem it’s time, I will be prepared with some injections to separate the marrow from the blood, then simply go through something like dialysis. I may miss a week of work, if that much.”
Robin Roberts also hopes that attention paid to her diagnosis will encourage people to donate bone marrow that might help someone else with the disease.
She developed MDS as a result of her breast cancer treatment — a manner of transmission so unusual it affects only a few hundred people per year, said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC’s medical correspondent.
The prognosis for many MDS patients is dire, but that’s largely due to the disease primarily affecting people over age 60, Besser said. Between Roberts being young and healthy, and having already located a good donor in her sister, Besser said things look promising for her.
Roberts has contributed to “Good Morning America” since 1995, and was named co-anchor in 2005. The former Southeastern Louisiana basketball star worked at ESPN for 15 years.
She had blood tests that disclosed the MDS after feeling fatigued, or more fatigued than even someone who had to get up for a 7 a.m. show every weekday might expect, Besser said.
She learned of her diagnosis on the same day that “Good Morning America” beat “Today” for a week in the ratings for the first time in more than 16 years, Roberts said. On a day some of her bone marrow was extracted for testing, Roberts learned she had landed an interview with President Barack Obama where the president revealed his support for gay marriage.
“The combination of landing the biggest interview of my career and having a drill in my back reminds me that God only gives us what we can handle and that it helps to have a good sense of humor when we run smack into the adversity of life” – she said.

Leave a Reply