Sitting in a white fluffy bathrobe in front of her bathroom mirror, Robin Roberts – still recuperating from a bone marrow transplant just five months earlier – seems at ease with her striking reflection. Just as she was after battling breast cancer in 2007, Roberts is once again bald, but this time she’s skipping the wig.
“Whatever,” the Good Morning America anchor says with a shrug. “I’m thankful I have a pretty-good-shaped head.” And the 30 lbs. she’s lost from her 5’10” frame during her month-long hospital stay? “It’s been hard to put back on, a first in my life,” she admits. “But I gained a pound last week in New Orleans. Woo-hoo!”
And when Charlie Gibson, an old friend and former GMA cohort, drops by her Manhattan apartment and asks how she is, she replies as if nothing eventful has happened: “I’m good. How are you?” she says casually. “No, I wasn’t being polite,” Gibson replies. “I really want to know, ‘How are you?’ ”
That’s the question millions have been asking ever since the anchor left GMA last August to undergo a bone marrow transplant for a rare blood-and-bone-marrow disease called myelodysplastic syndrome, which can lead to a fast-growing form of leukemia.
“Every day I feel more like my old self. I didn’t think I would,” Roberts says, noting that she was so weak when she left the hospital in October, she could barely walk. While some shaky moments persist – “I’ve still got chemo brain and my vision is blurry” – Roberts is eager to return to her GMA anchor chair at last on Feb. 20, exactly five months after her transplant. “You feel so bad for so long, you just want to feel normal. And now I do.”
She also has a new sense of perspective after fighting for her life for a second time. While Roberts, 52, projected an upbeat, brave persona in blog posts and tweets during her recovery, “it’s important people know I’m not always like that,” she says. “But I choose to be happy and not string together the bad days.” Says her sister and bone marrow donor Sally-Ann: “We’ve been through a lot the last few months,” including the death of their beloved mom, Lucimarian. “I marvel at Robin’s strength.”
It’s a strength that was tested in April, when Roberts’s doctor told her over the phone he suspected she had MDS. After looking it up on the Internet, “I was literally on the floor,” she recalls. “I collapsed.” But as GMA viewers know, she soon picked herself up and decided to go ahead with the grueling process of a bone marrow transplant; luckily her sister was a perfect match.
Just as she was about to begin treatment, another life-altering event intervened: Roberts had to race home to Pass Christian, Miss., during Hurricane Isaac to say goodbye to her ailing mother, who died just hours after Roberts reached her on Aug. 30.
The trip came at a pivotal moment for the terrified Roberts. “I don’t care how old you are; when you’re sick, you want your mom,” she says, choking up. “And I wanted my mom.”