Five months after being diagnosed with the rare blood disease myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), also known as pre-leukemia, reporter Robin Roberts has returned to her anchor position on ABC’s "Good Morning America."
In a personal letter written in early February and posted on ABC’s website, Roberts, 52, stated, "Hallelujah! After seeing my doctor again this week I now know when I can return to the anchor chair. February 20th, which will be exactly 5 months since my bone marrow transplant."
On February 14, it was also announced that Roberts would share her story on "20/20" on Friday, February 22 as well as make an appearance on the Oscars’ red carpet the following Sunday, February 24.
Last summer Roberts’ doctor, Dr. Gail Roboz, spoke in depth to chronicle the nature of Roberts's illness and the difficult road she would face in overcoming it. MDS causes the body to suffer from a group of diseases that weaken both blood and bone marrow. There are two versions of MDS — de novo MDS for when the cause of illness is unknown and secondary MDS, which can be triggered by exposure to chemicals and cancer treatments.
Symptoms as a result include anemia due to a low red blood cell count, vulnerability to other illnesses due to a low white blood cell count, and the body becoming more capable of bleeding or bruising over time. In its most severe stage, MDS can develop into acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). Up to 15,000 people are diagnosed with MDS in the United States each year. It is most seen in men and the elderly. Causes of death commonly occur from infection, bleeding, or the progress of the disease to AML.
In preparation for her bone marrow transplant, Dr. Roboz said Roberts received a special type of chemotherapy drug that temporarily helps to restore her blood count and bone marrow. After the procedure and insertion of donated bone marrow cells from Roberts’ donor and sister, Sally-Ann Roberts, comes the first crucial 30 days of recovery. Doctors had to carefully monitor Roberts to see if her bone marrow grafted properly and that new blood cells were being created at a normal rate.
"This is a tough time in the treatment," Roboz said. "There are mouth sores, weight loss, diarrhea, food doesn't taste good, there's hair loss."
Although cleared to return to "Good Morning America," Roberts will still be monitored closely to make sure that everything lost in chemotherapy holds out against the added stressors of her fast-paced work environment. In addition to personal struggles, she faced an outward crisis when her mothers Lucimarian Roberts, 88, passed away the day after she announced her medical leave. Roberts and her sister were able to return to Mississippi to be with Mrs. Roberts in her final hours.
Despite the turmoil, Roberts appears to have found her footing and strength coming out of a difficult time in her life — which is remarkably admirable of her. In her return to the show, she said, "I have been waiting 174 days to say this ... Good Morning America!" She attributes friends, faith, and family as being sources that have made her "full of gratitude."