Giving Back as a Cancer Survivor
- Robin Roberts has survived both breast cancer and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). And after having a bone marrow transplant in 2012 to treat her MDS, she’s worked with Be The Match – a nonprofit that manages the world’s largest bone marrow donor registry.
- A bone marrow transplant, also called a stem cell transplant, is a procedure that’s often used in conjunction with a massive dose of chemotherapy to literally rescue the body’s immune system. In literal definition, the transplant infuses healthy blood-forming stem cells into the body to replace bone marrow that’s not producing enough healthy blood cells.
- MDS is a group of bone marrow disorders affecting blood cell production, and it’s considered a type of blood cancer. Treatment for the disorder depends on several factors such as blood counts, the number of immature cells in the bone marrow, and what types of cells have been affected.
- Roberts is determined to give back, and many cancer survivors say their experience with the disease gave them perspective on life. Another survivor told us cancer helped her learn the importance of taking care of herself and being “more respectful to [her] body.”
Be The Match is a “a community of donors, volunteers, health care professionals and researchers who deliver cures by helping patients get the life-saving marrow transplant they need.” A bone marrow transplant, also called a stem cell transplant, is a procedure that infuses healthy blood-forming stem cells into your body to replace bone marrow that’s not producing enough healthy blood cells. The transplants are used to literally rescue the body after a massive dose of chemotherapy that’s intended to wipe out the cancer. Bone marrow transplants are used to treat a variety of cancerous and noncancerous conditions including blood cancers, neuroblastoma and immune deficiencies.Read More
In a recent post to her Instagram, the iconic news host shared a sweet story about Isabella – a Good Morning America viewer who took action after seeing Roberts speak about the 10-year anniversary since her bone marrow transplant with medical oncologist Dr. Gail Roboz. Dr. Roboz has served as an expert resource on SurvivorNet and is the director of the Clinical and Translational Leukemia Program at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.View this post on Instagram
“Ironically enough, my dad is coming up on his 20 year anniversary in March,” Isabella’s story reads in the post. “Seeing the segment on GMA sparked my interest because I never really knew the details about what my dad went through and how Be The Match saved his life.”
Feeling “inspired” and determined to “celebrate [her] dad” she decided to fundraise for Be The Match around Christmastime.
“We had about 30 people swab + sign up for the registry and raised more than $3,400 making me one of Be The Match’s top 10 Student fundraisers,” the Roberts’ post continues. “I plan to continue to host drives every year during the holidays to give the gift of life to others, just as someone did for my dad 20 years ago. After all, if that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be here today.
“Thank you Dr. Roboz and Robin Roberts for inspiring me to become involved with Be The Match.”
Roberts, needed a bone marrow transplant for her myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) back in 2012. Thankfully, her sister Sally-Ann was a “virtually perfect match,” according to Good Morning America, and her treatment was a success.
How Does A Bone Marrow Transplant Treat MDS?
MDS is a group of bone marrow disorders affecting blood cell production, and it’s considered a type of blood cancer. Treatment for the disorder depends on several factors such as blood counts, the number of immature cells in the bone marrow, and what types of cells have been affected.
“You can think of MDS as a spectrum of diseases,” Dr. Lewis Silverman, director of the resource center for MDS at Mt. Sinai’s Tisch Cancer Institute, previously told SurvivorNet. “On the one hand, there are patients who, when they present, are categorized as having very low-risk disease, and then it ranges up through middle categories to very high-risk disease. MDS patients can be categorized anywhere along that spectrum of disease.”
Not all MDS patients require treatment, but a stem cell transplant is an option for some people.
“The treatments that we have right now still are not curative except for stem cell transplants, and those are major undertakings, and not every individual is a great candidate for that,” Dr. Silverman said. “We do evaluate the patients for stem cell transplants and transplant those [eligible] patients.”
Robin Roberts And Her Partner Battle Breast Cancer
Sadly, her MDS battle was not the first time Roberts had to face a life-changing health crisis. Five years prior to her MDS diagnosis, she was told she had breast cancer. Ironically, she was diagnosed in 2007 after finding a lump in her breast during her preparation for a news segment on performing self-checks.
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Roberts was declared cancer-free after surgery.
But she has since shared that her longtime partner Amber Laign is currently facing breast cancer. Since Laign’s diagnosis, Roberts has been doing everything she can to support her partner throughout her cancer journey.
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“I didn’t realize how much I had blocked out during my journey, and it was because of sweet Amber—because she protected me and navigated for me,” Roberts said in a previous interview with Ellen Degeneres. “So, I’m doing the same thing for her.”
And though she’s “had some complications with the chemotherapy” and “challenging” weeks to work through, Laign has since triumphantly completed her radiation treatments. In a post from July 2022, Roberts shared the exciting news with fans.
View this post on Instagram
“Sweet Amber completing radiation, a very important phase of her treatment!” Roberts wrote under a video of Laign ringing a bell to signify the end of radiation. “We both thank you for all your well wishes and prayers. Proud of her and all fellow Thrivers for your grit and grace during a challenging time. This is indeed my #mondaymotivation.”
It’s unclear exactly where Laign is at with her cancer journey now, but we’re confident Roberts is firmly standing by her side every step of the way.
Perspective after Cancer
Many cancer survivors tend to say their cancer journeys helped them gain perspective on life.
For breast cancer survivor Fernanda Savino, her experience with the disease forced her to slow down and gave her a whole new appreciation for her body and loved ones.
‘Cancer Brought Me So Many Lessons’ Says Survivor Fernanda Savino; It Can Change Your Perspective On Life
“I’m a lawyer, and I used to be such a workaholic,” Fernanda previously told SurvivorNet. “I would work for long hours, and I would never make room for doctor appointments or anything like that.
“I started to take care of my health and be more respectful to my body, to me. I started to exercise more.”
Like so many others, Fernanda also said she relied on a lot of support from her loved ones – something she’ll always be grateful for.
“I had all the support … my family, my friends, even the ones that weren’t so close, they always were present,” she said. “I don’t know how I would have gotten through all of this without them.”
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