By Melissa M. Scallan/The Sun Herald (MCT)
It has been nearly six months since America saw Robin Roberts’ smiling face at the “Good Morning America” anchor desk, and during that time they have sent the beloved reporter their prayers, thoughts and wishes for a speedy return.
That happen today, five months to the day that Roberts underwent a bone marrow transplant, and family and friends said they couldn’t wait to see her doing what she loves again.
“She seems to have bounced back with determination,” said Dave Dennis, a longtime friend of the Roberts family. “She offers a beacon of hope for many people who have had health concerns. It would have been easy for her to give up, but she chose not to do that.”
Roberts’ sister, Dorothy Roberts McEwen, agreed.
“We’re thrilled,” McEwen said last week, adding that she and sister Sally-Ann Roberts will be in New York for Robin’s first day back at work. “I’m excited because I’ll be able to see her on a regular basis and see how she’s progressing. We’ve always believed and had faith that things would be fine, but this validates that. We’re just very grateful.”
Rough few years
Roberts told the world in 2007 that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation and worked through much of her treatment.
At first, she didn’t want to tell the public about her disease, but in a 2011 interview with the Sun Herald, she said her mother, Lucimarian, told her she needed to let her audience know.
“I was not going to go public,” Roberts recalled. “There was no way, no how. I didn’t want anyone to know. It was so personal. It was my mother who said, in essence, ‘We don’t roll like that. The Roberts family doesn’t roll like that.’ She said I was going to be a voice for those going through this who don’t have what I have.”
Late last spring, Roberts was diagnosed with MDS, myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood and bone marrow disease she likely developed because of the breast cancer treatment.
Through tears, she once again told GMA viewers across the country that she was ill and needed a bone marrow transplant — and their prayers. Her older sister, Sally-Ann Roberts, was a match and was her sister’s donor.
“I am going to beat this,” she said last June. “My doctors say it, and my faith says it. It’s about focusing on the fight and not the fright.”
Robin began treatment in June to prepare for the transplant, which she had Sept. 20. Shortly after she began the treatment, her mother suffered a bad stroke. Robin left her anchor post at GMA a day early to be with her mother and arrived on the Coast hours before Lucimarian Roberts died on Aug. 30 at her home in Pass Christian.
She returned to New York after just a few days on the Coast to continue her treatment and spent a month in the hospital after the transplant.
McEwen said it was a rough time for the whole family.
“It’s been one of the darkest times in our family life — finding out she was ill and then mom getting sick,” she said. “It’s a very daunting thing to go through as a family. To be so far away from her and not be able to help was difficult.”
One of their hardest days was when Robin got out of the hospital a month after the transplant. Her siblings went back to her apartment with Robin but had to leave almost immediately because of her fragile immune system.
“That was the toughest moment,” McEwen recalled.
Road back to health
After she was released from the hospital, Robin suffered a few setbacks. Doctors warned her it would take time for her immune system to develop, and she spent a few more days in the hospital in November recovering from a virus. But, she continued to get stronger and let her fans know about her progress through her Facebook and Twitter pages.
She announced in January that she would be returning to work in February and the weekend of the Super Bowl she visited New Orleans and Pass Christian, returning to her mother’s home with her three siblings for the first time since Lucimarian’s death.
Dennis got to visit with Robin and Dorothy briefly while Robin was on the Coast.
“She looked great,” he said. “She was good to go.”
He said everyone looks forward to her return, but people on the Coast in particular are ready for Robin to be back on the air.
“She is an unbelievably positive ambassador for the Coast,” he said. “Having her back in the limelight shines a light on Mississippi. She is a leader for the Coast, even though she doesn’t live here. She has a positive way of moving forward.”
Missy Buchanan is a co-author of the book Robin and Lucimarian wrote that was released last spring, “My Story, My Song: Mother-Daughter Reflections on Life and Faith.” She spent many hours with both of them while writing the book and said their faith and resolve are inspiring.
“The celebration of her return is a celebration of the human spirit,” Buchanan said. “But as Sally-Ann tells me, ‘It’s a God thing.’”
Buchanan travels around the country and said when she talks about the book she wrote with the Roberts’ people always ask about Robin and how she’s doing.
“They are following her story closely,” she said. “They tell me that their mornings aren’t right with Robin in the anchor chair. I think they will celebrate her return to GMA much as they would for a loved one.”
McEwen said because of her baby sister’s job, often she acts more like the oldest child than the youngest. This disease changed that.
“She’s the baby,” McEwen said last week. “You think there’s a hierarchy of life, and it really has thrown us a curve.
McEwen said she is proud of her sister for fighting this disease and being an example for others.
“She leads a very full life, and her heart is so open, so gracious, so giving,” McEwen said. “I’m proud of her courage. Her courage inspires me.”