Dominic Massa / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS – Strengthening what is already a tremendous bond between sisters, WWL-TV anchor Sally-Ann Roberts announced Monday that she will undergo a procedure to donate bone marrow cells in a transplant operation for her sister, “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts, who is battling a recurrence of cancer.
Robin Roberts made the announcement this morning on her ABC program, and Sally-Ann disclosed the news in an Eyewitness Morning News interview with anchor Mike Hoss.
Robin Roberts was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 and has successfully battled the disease for the past five years.
"Sometimes the treatment for cancer can cause other serious medical problems," Robin said in a statement. "Today, I want to let you know that I’ve been diagnosed with MDS or myelodysplastic syndrome. It's a disease of the blood and bone marrow and was once known as preleukemia. My doctors tell me I'm going to beat this -- and I know it's true."
Sally-Ann said in her interview that the doctors tell the family that the best way to beat the MDS is through a bone marrow transplant.
“The best news that we received was that I’m a perfect match,” Sally-Ann said. “And when I got that news, it was like Christmas times 1,000. Because anyone who knows what it’s like to wait for that kind of news realizes the trauma.”
Robin said she will begin treatment in preparation for the transplant on Monday. Sally-Ann will undergo the transplant procedure sometime this fall. For most donors, the procedure is relatively simple, involving the removal of marrow or blood cells from the donor through a needle, according to the National Marrow Donor Program. Most donors return to their normal routine within a week.
Sally-Ann explained that both she and her family hope to use this experience to encourage people to sign up as bone marrow donors through the Be the Match program.
“Robin has said she wants this to be a way of helping others. She wants other people to know that they’re not alone. That’s why she’s going public with this, as she has in the past,” Sally-Ann said.
According to the National Marrow Donor Program, thousands of patients with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, sickle cell anemia and other life-threatening diseases depend on the donor registry each year.
Sally-Ann explained that she was found to be a match for her sister, by taking just a simple swab of the saliva on the inside of her cheek. According to the Be the Match program, even those without a family member in need of a transplant are encouraged to become part of the registry, which may lead them to a patient in need of a life-saving transplant.
The website explains that patients need donors who are a genetic match, as Sally-Ann is for Robin. But often that does not come from a family member, the program says. Seventy percent of patients do not have a donor in their family and depend on the Be The Match Registry to find an unrelated bone marrow donor or umbilical cord blood.
Also, donors with diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds are especially needed.
“Once you are in that registry, anywhere in the country where there is a need, you will be notified,” Sally-Ann said. “And if you go to the website, you will hear the testimonies of people who have been helped by strangers. That’s what I am hoping will come out of this.”
Sally-Ann said that when Robin first announced she had been diagnosed with cancer, the outpouring of support she received from viewers, friends and colleagues was overwhelmingly positive.
“This time around, she is hoping she can draw attention to the registry,” Sally-Ann said.
Sally-Ann said that she knows her family’s close connection and deep, personal faith will be of great comfort and support to Robin as she undergoes this next phase of her treatment.
“When I heard the news, my first feeling was, ‘Oh my, not again,’ because Robin has been through so much. But she’s not going through this journey alone. She has the family behind her 100 percent and she has such a fighting spirit and faith, that I feel very optimistic.”
Robin, who just this past weekend was inducted into the Women Basketball Hall of Fame, echoed that sentiment.
"Bottom line: 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.
When I faced breast cancer, your prayers and good wishes sustained me, gave me such hope and played a major role in my recovery. In facing this new challenge, I ask humbly for more of your prayers and love – as I will keep you in my mine and update you regularly on my condition."
For more on becoming a bone marrow donor, click here.