Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Robin Roberts Diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome

Robin Roberts announced Monday morning on "Good Morning America" that after beating Breast Cancer five-years ago, she faces another hurdle - Myelodysplastic Syndrome.

The myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS, formerly known as pre-leukemia) are a diverse collection of hematological (blood-related) medical conditions that involve ineffective production (or dysplasia) of the myeloid class of blood cells.

Patients with MDS often develop severe anemia and require frequent blood transfusions. In most cases, the disease worsens and the patient develops cytopenias (low blood counts) due to progressive bone marrow failure. In about one third of patients with MDS, the disease transforms into acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), usually within months to a few years.[1]

The myelodysplastic syndromes are all disorders of the stem cell in the bone marrow. In MDS, hematopoiesis (blood production) is disorderly and ineffective. The number and quality of blood-forming cells decline irreversibly, further impairing blood production.

Robin Roberts was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in late 2007 and shortly after underwent surgery, and began chemotherapy followed by radiation treatment. As a result of her rigorous cancer treatment Robin developed additional medical complications, leading to her Myelodysplastic Syndrome diagnosis. Robin will need a Bone Marrow transplant and announced that she has already beaten the odds, with her sister Sally-Ann who tested positive as a match.  

African-American have a less than 30% chance of finding a match and about 70 percent of overall patients in need of a transplant do not have a matching donor in their family. 

A few years ago I was inspired by Rihanna's plea for Jasmine Anema to register for the National Bone Marrow Registry. At the time I was not aware of the registry, nor was I aware of what the testing process involved. I honestly didn't know much about Leukemia, except that my grandfather had it and passed away during a time when the Bone Marrow transplant statistics were ever worse for Asian-Americans. I went to a National Bone Marrow Drive in honor of Jasmine and became a registered donor. The process was so simple - a qtip swabbed my mouth and I was done. 

My heart goes out to Robin and her sister has they both undergo Bone Marrow transplant surgery later this year. I hope her diagnosis serves as a positive factor and again opens up the conversation about Caner and the scarcity of Bone Marrow Donors in the African-American community.

Register to become a Bone Marrow Donor

1. Are you registered with the National Bone Marrow Program Registry? If not, will you consider registering?
2. Before Robin's announcement, were you aware of myelodysplastic syndromes?
3. As a community what can we do to further educate people about Bone Marrow transplants and the importance of the registry?
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