Published Sep 21, 2021
We adore breast cancer survivor Robin Roberts, who’s truly a shining light of positivity and hope in the world – and Robin is celebrating an exciting milestone: It’s been 9 years since her bone marrow transplant! We’re right there alongside her, raising a glass of bubbly to her health and wellness.
Roberts writes on Instagram, “Quiet dinner at home w/ sweet Amber & @lil_man_lukas to mark 9 years since my bone marrow transplant. Everybody’s got something and I’m hopeful to be a reminder that this too shall pass. #lightlovepowerpresence”
Roberts is not only a survivor, but the post also shows how she’s an adoring and loving other half to her partner, Amber Laign (or, “Sweet Amber” as she always calls her). Having a strong support system – be it partner or friends or family – through cancer can make a huge difference. Roberts and Laign have been together for 16 years.
In addition to battling breast cancer, Roberts had Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a rare type of blood cancer that occurs when blood-forming cells in the bone marrow become abnormal. To treat it, she had a bone marrow transplant.
Certain factors elevate the risk for developing MDS and one of them is prior cancer treatment with chemotherapy. Patients treated with certain chemo drugs for cancer are more likely to develop MDS. MDS caused by cancer treatment is called “secondary MDS” or “treatment-related MDS.”
In a previous interview, Dr. Mikkael Sekeres, chief of hematology at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, explains what MDS feels like for people diagnosed with this disease. He says, “Cancers like acute myeloid leukemia or myelodysplastic syndromes are insidious. They’re subtle. Somebody may wake up and say, ‘gee, I just don’t feel great today. I feel like I have the flu.'”
“And why does that person have the flu?,” he says, “Because something like acute myeloid leukemia causes a very high white blood cell count. It’s essentially a cancer of the white blood cells. A person has symptoms of the flu because he or she has a high white blood cell count reacting to a virus.”
A bone marrow transplant is a treatment for MDS and some other cancers, and it replaces bone marrow with healthy cells. It is also sometimes called a “stem cell transplant.” Roberts’s donor cells for her transplant came from her sister, Sally Ann Roberts.
In a previous interview, Dr. Caitlin Costello, a hematologist-oncologist at UC San Diego Health, says, “The things we consider for patients who may need an autologous stem cell transplant is number one their disease.”
Dr. Costello explained that a stem cell transplant is more effective for certain diseases. “There are some diseases for whom this works better than others,” she said. “It’s most commonly used in relapsed diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, but there are other lymphomas, mantle cell lymphoma for whom which patients oftentimes get and I’ll autologous stem cell transplant as soon as they achieve remission. Or something close to it.”
In 2007, Robin Roberts was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was preparing for a news story about the need for early detection for breast cancer, and she performed a self-check at home. While doing an exam on herself, Roberts found a lump.
She treated her breast cancer with surgery. Breast cancer can also be treated with radiation and chemotherapy. When discussing surgical options to treat breast cancer, Dr. Ann Partridge, an oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, says in an earlier interview how she evaluates the treatment path.
She says, “So when I talk to a woman who comes to me and she has breast cancer, I evaluate what the standard options for treatment for her are, which typically include cutting out the cancer – which is either a lumpectomy if you can get it all with just a little scooping around of the area that’s abnormal or a mastectomy for some women meaning taking the full breast because sometimes these lesions can be very extensive in the breast. And I’ll talk to a woman about that and I’ll say these are two main options or the big fork in the road.”