Monday, June 11, 2012

June 11, 2012 – Robin Roberts, Survivor

A remarkable television moment this morning, as ABC Good Morning America broadcaster Robin Roberts delivers an emotional announcement that she has myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), and is starting treatment that will ultimately result in a bone-marrow transplant.

This isn’t the first time Robin has been in the news with a very personal medical story.  Five years ago, she received successful treatment for breast cancer, and spoke about it on the air. Today, she sat on a couch with other members of the Good Morning America team gathered around her for support, and told her viewing public of her diagnosis.  A helpful stagehand had attached a box of Kleenex to the couch with velcro.  She didn't need it.

It’s really worth watching the video clip of Robin’s Good Morning America announcement.  It’s a fascinating mini-case-study of what it means to live with cancer, in community with others. The reactions of her colleagues sitting on either side of her are just as illuminating to watch as she herself is.

Although Robin didn’t use the “C” word on the air, MDS is considered to be a blood cancer in the same family as leukemia and lymphoma.  Treatments are similar.  Robin has the good fortune to have a sister who’s a perfect donor match (which tells me she’s going to have an allogeneic stem cell transplant, generally considered to be the most effective).  Good for her.

At such future time as I may have to have a stem cell transplant, a donor’s not going to be so easy to find.  Both my brothers have been tested, and we’ve learned that neither one of them fits into the 25% of siblings who are typically a good match, so I’d have to rely on finding a volunteer through the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry.

Robin is planning to continue working, even though a PIC line may be visible on her arm (not a big deal for most people, but in the image-conscious world of TV journalism, it’s significant). She will, of course, eventually be out on sick leave for an extended period of time, as she goes into isolation for the actual transplant.  Yet, in the months leading up to that time, as she receives various drugs to prepare her for the big event, she’s going to keep going before the cameras, living life as usual.

While this may sound extraordinarily courageous to some viewers – and, indeed, to some of Robin’s colleagues sharing the couch with her – to anyone who’s been in that situation it’s not so surprising. What most of us want to do, once we’ve gotten over the initial shock of our diagnosis, is to keep on living our lives.  This is the second time around for Robin, when it comes to cancer treatment. While she’s obviously emotional going before the cameras to tell her story, it makes sense to me that she wants to keep on keeping on, with a minimum of fuss.  In Robin’s own words, “It’s about focusing on the fight, and not the fright.”

If her viewers catch sight of a bandage on her arm, indicating the presence of her PIC line, then it will be a helpful reminder that there are far more people living with cancer than dying from it.

No comments: