In 2007, Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts conducted a self-exam of her breast after reporting on a friend who had died of cancer.
“It all started a few weeks ago,” she wrote in an email that was shared with the world. “We had gotten the news that our dear colleague and friend Joel Siegel had passed away and we began preparing for our special tribute show for him. I did a piece about Joel’s courageous battle with cancer, reporting on the way my friend had lived his life and been such a successful advocate for the importance of early cancer screenings.”
She found a lump.
Roberts had a biopsy, then surgery, and by January 2008 she’d gone through eight chemotherapy treatments and six weeks of radiation. She later learned she had myelodysplastic syndrome, which is “a disease of the blood and bone marrow and was once known as preleukemia,” Roberts said in a new message posted on the ABC News website.
In 2012, she received a bone marrow transplant from her sister.
Now she has teamed up with the online human health and wellness publication WebMD to help tell stories of early detection, support and bravery. Advanced Breast Cancer: Courage, Comfort and Care with Robin Roberts, a five-part video series, was released in August. The series tells the stories of women with advanced breast cancer, “plus the families and friends who provide encouragement and support, and includes insights from medical experts leading the charge to combat the disease,” WebMD announced.
She introduces Felicia Johnson, a Philadelphia woman and two-time cancer survivor who said the disease also attacked her maternal grandmother, her sister and her first cousin. Including Johnson, 11 women over three generations in her family have been diagnosed with cancer.
“It seems like our list just goes on and on,” Johnson says in the episode.
“Felicia’s connection to breast cancer is not unusual,” Roberts reports. “Death rates from breast cancer are higher in the African-American community, and research shows that African-American women are now being diagnosed with breast cancer more frequently.”
Roberts also introduces Lisa Newman, a surgical oncologist and director of the Breast Oncology Program for the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. Newman says many black women are not getting preventive treatment, so she spends a lot of her time advocating for early detection.
“Every opportunity to get the message out to African-American women regarding breast cancer screening and early detection is critical,” Newman says.
“We completed several series for WebMD on a variety of health subjects, but this series represented a chance for us to take a deep look at the many facets of breast cancer treatment and survivorship,” Roberts told Essence in August.
“From personal experience with the disease, I know there’s a lot of fear associated with breast cancer, especially when a patient is first diagnosed and when the disease has already reached an advanced stage — I also felt the series could help people learn how to better cope with the fear and anxiety, and offer them hope for their future.”