GMA host Robin Roberts has MDS

June 11, 2012

Monday morning she announced she's been diagnosed with a rare blood and bone marrow disease and just as she did in her public battle with breast cancer five years ago, Roberts is using this new health problem to raise awareness.

Roberts has always said one of the most important lessons her mother ever taught her - was to make your mess your message.

Now she is facing her toughest battle yet, but is optimistic and she is hoping as a result of her sharing her story -- more people will get involved in bone marrow and organ donations.

"It's about focusing on the fight and not the fright," she said. "I'm like everyone who faces some life altering situation where its your health or finances or what not and it getting' up off the mat and fighting and that's what I'm going to do and I to be here,"

Roberts's condition is a rare reaction to the chemotherapy treatments that helped her beat breast cancer five years ago.

There is a change in the bone marrow's creation of blood cells and platelets.

About 18,000 people are diagnosed with MDS every year but only about 350 are diagnosed because of their cancer treatment.

In the coming months, Roberts will undergo treatments to prepare for the transplant.

"The reason I'm blessed, my sister is a virtual perfect match for me," she said.

Dr. Stephanie Gregory at the Rush University Cancer Center says that even though this is unusual, she's seeing an increase in MDS cases like Roberts.

She said that's because more people are surviving cancer.

"You may combine chemotherapy with radiation and those drugs if they cure the patient probably have given a little bit of damage to the bone marrow," Dr. Gregory said. "Depending on how much damage has occurred to the bone marrow stem cell patients may develop the therapy related myelodysplastic syndrome."

"I never thought I was going to die," Roberts said. "I knew I would be cured, I knew I was going to make it."

Joann Larson was treated by Dr Gregory after she was diagnosed with MDS in 2009 after extreme exhaustion.

She was 61 years old.

MDS progressed into leukemia and today she considers herself a cancer survivor.

She says attitude and family support is critical and has this advice for Roberts.

"Faith, family, medical staff and positive attitude," Larson said. "She's got a great attitude she will survive."

Larson says her motto is, "say it, fight it, cure it."

Her donor was a 51-year-old male, so she says her children call her their mom and dad because she now has male DNA.

Roberts started chemo today in preparation for the transplant that's expected to take place may in the fall.

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