Robin Roberts' return to "Good Morning America" early last month was marked by a flood of congratulatory messages from millions of fans across the nation and celebrity well-wishers, including Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, Kobe Bryant, Jimmy Kimmel and Bradley Cooper who were among those recording welcome videos for the veteran anchor.
"I keep pinching myself," said Robert her first day back on air. "This is actually happening."
The NBC’s “Today” show, and rival for the early mornings time slot, sent a gift basket and made a large donation to a charity that facilitates finding donor matches for patients who, like Robin, require bone-marrow transplants.
Straight from the White House, President Barak Obama, with First Lady Michelle Obama at his side, said “Good Morning, America, and welcome back, Robin.”
“Robin, we just want you to know that the whole Obama family, we’ve been thinking about you,” said the first lady, “and praying for you, and rooting for you every step of the way.”
Like many who followed Robert’s public battle with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), the president called her an inspiration and stated that he “couldn’t be happier’ to see her back on the air.
“I’m so grateful that people see me as a symbol of hope,” Roberts told Diane Sawyer in a special 20/20 episode that aired late last month.
Roberts’ latest medical ordeal began last June when she announced that she had the rare blood disorder. Her bone marrow produced too few functioning red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Treatment would require Roberts taking a medical leave to undergo a bone marrow transplant.
Immediately, the outpouring of love and support rushed in from the public. The very day Roberts made her announcement, Be the Match Registry—a nonprofit organization run by the National Marrow Donor Program, saw a 1,800% increase in donors.
“I am the first one to hold my hand up and say I have had so much help because of the position I’m in,” said Roberts after her 2007 battle with breast cancer, “but I don’t want to just take it and run. I want to use it to be an amplifier and a magnifying glass for those who are not in this situation.”
Upon leaving the show, Robert allowed cameras a candid look at the difficult period during which she as she found a bone marrow match in her sister, dealt with the loss of her mother, and grappled with the emotional tug and war of undergoing treatment and fighting for recovery. The 20/20 special aired last month.
"When I started, there was just like something for hydration, and then they would add another bag. … they would put chemo, and … all of a sudden I couldn't even see the pole for all the bags that were hanging off of it," she said.
"Some of it was nutrition and there was this white bag called, 'lipids.' And it would come in the room, and I could just smell it. And it looked like... white-out. That's how it was. But it was giving me life, it was keeping me alive."
This isn’t the first time Roberts faced a harrowing health issue. Just over 5 years ago, the Mississippi native had been working on a tribute to former ABC colleague Joel Siegel, who died of colon cancer and had been an advocate of early screening and prevention, when she discovered a lump in her breast while performing a self examination.
After undergoing a biopsy, her fears were confirmed.
She was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, an announcement she also made on the air before taking a medical leave for surgery.
It was her beloved mother who passed the day after Roberts began her 2012 leave from GMA, who’d encouraged her to share her battle breast cancer with all of America.
“My mom said, ‘Make your mess your message,’ ” Robin told Cancerconnect.com. “She helped show me that there are others who are going to benefit from [my story] and that the pain and discomfort I was going to go through would be minimal compared with the benefit I could bring to other people.”
“‘She said, ‘You know, Robin, you are abundantly blessed, and you have resources that other people do not have; you need to be their voice, and you need to be an advocate for them.’ ”
It is with that same candidacy that Robin approached her struggle against MDS, whether her grief after losing her mother at such a vital time or her decision to shave off her hair.
"It was so traumatic last time and I wanted to be in control," she told 20/20. "I am in control. I am deciding when my hair goes. I'm not waiting in that hospital bed for it to fall out. I made this decision and it was the right decision."
The, daughter of a Tuskegee Airman, Roberts began her career in 1983 as a sports anchor and reporter after graduating from Southeaster Louisiana University. Roberts, a star basketball player who averaged 15.2 points her game during her senior year, eventually made her way to ESPN in 1990 where she would go on to earn three Emmy Awards.
Five years later, the Mississippi native began as a contributor on “Good Morning America” and in 2005 was promoted to co-anchor. Along with co-anchor George Stephanopoulos who joined her in 2009, Roberts lead the GMA to the top of the rating charts.
Her persistence, however, did not make the days after the transplant any easier for her to navigate, with Robert’s making the public admission that she felt as if she were dying.
"I was in a coma-like state," she says of the days following the September procedure, a time when she couldn’t eat or drink. “I truly felt I was slipping away."
What got her through was the support of family and friends and the faith instilled in her by her parents, Lawrence and Lucy Marion Roberts.
“They instilled in me a deep faith. We went to church and it brings back such wonderful memories. Mama making pancakes. We’re getting ready for church and she’s playing the piano. As I moved as an adult from town to town, the first thing I did was join a church. And all four of their children are college educated and reached certain levels of success, but my Mama says what brings her the greatest joy is when someone says, “Hey, I saw your child in church today.”
Roberts morning routine begins with her saying the prayer of protection, “The light of God surrounds me. The love of God enfolds me. The power of God protects me. The presence of God watches over me. Wherever I am, God is.”
Today, the anchor reports that, "Every day I feel more like my old self. I didn't think I would…You feel bad for so long, you just want to feel normal. And now I do."
Though doctors are still watching her health, by all appearances, not only is she back to normal, but thriving.
Roberts’ saving grace was perhaps put best when she stated, “if you strip away my college degree and my awards, and who I am and all that, it comes down to being a simple child of God. That’s who I am.”