The Good Morning America co-host reflects on the most difficult time in her life

By Patrick Gomez
Updated August 23, 2015 01:40 PM
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Jenny Anderson/WireImage

Almost exactly ten years ago, Robin Roberts was facing one of the most difficult moments of her life.

“The morning after [Hurricane Katrina hit], I was there on the Gulf Coast reporting and I broke down. It was the first time I had ever done that,” the Good Morning America co-anchor, 54, tells PEOPLE. “I had been driving all night long and lost contact with my family, who was in Biloxi, Mississippi, at the time. I didn’t know when I was driving what I would find.”

Though she found her family, Roberts recalls “just crying like a baby” on air when asked about them by her co-anchor Charlie Gibson.

A decade later, the news anchor – who is hosting Katrina: 10 Years After the Storm With Robin Roberts Sunday, Aug. 23, on ABC – says she looks back at the opportunity to cover the hurricane with “gratitude.”

“I’m grateful to be from such a resilient part of the country and I’m grateful for all the volunteers,” she says. “I’m just so grateful for those groups and to be able to highlight all the good and also talk about where we have come up short. There are so many things that have happened that are good but there is a lot of work left to be done. It’s a story that will continue to unfold.”

And the 10-year anniversary of the tragic natural disaster has also inspired Roberts to reflect on her own unfolding story.

“Ten years ago I had just been promoted to co-anchor at GMA. On a blind date, I met the most wonderful woman, Amber. Two years later, breast cancer. I thankfully recover. [Five years after that,] GMA finally becomes number one in the [ratings], and the same day I’m told I have two years left to live if I don’t find a bone marrow donor,” she says matter-of-factly. “Answering a prayer, my sister is a perfect match. Then, days before my transplant, I have to rush home to be by my beloved mother’s side. I was the one holding her hand when she took her last breath.

Through the, as she calls them, “peaks and valleys” over the past decade, Roberts has chosen to focus on the positive portions of her journey.

“It’s been ten years of immense sorrow, but also joy. You pick yourself back up and you keep moving forward as best you can,” she says. “My sweet mama taught me that when you are knocked down, it takes courage to believe that the best is yet to come. This too shall pass. I’ve lived through hard times and I am stronger for it – and I’m here. I get up every day and do what I can to be strong.”

Katrina: 10 Years After the Storm With Robin Roberts airs Sunday, Aug. 23 at 9 p.m. (ET) on ABC.