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Robin Roberts: “I refuse to lose” The Good Morning America Anchor Fights Breast Cancer

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It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A few months ago, I sat down with a resolute Robin Roberts on the set of Good Morning America to hear her phenomenal story of battling breast cancer.  

Robin Roberts: “I refuse to lose.”

The Good Morning America Anchor Fights Breast Cancer

By Kimberly Seals Allers

"I refuse to lose," says a resolute Robin Roberts as we sit on the set of Good Morning America.

"I feel I am being lifted up in prayer and my mission is to use this as a platform to be a voice for the voiceless," says Roberts.

Last year Roberts shocked the America used to her trademark down-to-earth style and warmth, with news that she was battling breast cancer.

A native of Pass Christian, Mississippi Roberts was a college basketball standout and an anchor of ESPNs SportsCenter for fifteen years. For all the breakthroughs Roberts has created for women in sports both on the court and in broadcasting, she was decidedly now in the battle of her life. This was the battle for her life.

"At first I was in a daze. It was a complete shock," says the 46-year-old  former athlete and host of ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, who has always maintained a healthy lifestyle. Roberts has no family history of breast cancer.

Like so many other black women, what she did have, was a recent pattern of neglecting routine health matters. During her late 30’s and early 40s, Roberts says she was very consistent with her annual mammograms, but in the past three to four years, her busy schedule caused her to slack off.

Then came the loss of her good friend and colleague, GMA movie critic entertainment editor, Joel Siegel, who died of colon cancer at age 63. His death  deeply affected Roberts and it was the wake up call she needed. Soon after, Robin did a TV report on Siegel, and returned home that night exhausted from her day’s activities. She fell asleep on her couch. When she awoke she says, she couldn’t help but notice a large lump on the upper part of her breast. That day she went straight from work to the doctor’s office. He sent her directly to get a mammogram and then a biopsy which confirmed the unimaginable.

"I am human and I was scared," she says.

After allowing herself some time to "freak out," something else happened. "The athlete in me came out and I said, This is my opponent. I will kick its tail," says the author of From the Heart: Seven Rules to Live By (Hyperion).

To win, in true Robin Roberts fashion, she developed her game plan which centered on faith, family and friends and being her own healthcare advocate to make sure she got the best treatment possible.

Then she took an even more powerful step. Roberts could have easily and understandably exercised her right to keep her private health matter a private health matter. Instead, she courageously took America with her on her journey.  Roberts admits, going public with the news was not her first inclination. “At first, I was like, Nooooo! I’m not telling anyone I don’t have to tell,” Roberts says. But her mama knew best.  “My mom said the pain and suffering you are going through now will  pale in comparison to that which you can save others from, by sharing your story,” says Roberts. Her mother’s 84 years of wisdom,  as always, affected Robin deeply. “She told me to turn my mess into my message and that’s what I did.”

And then she went one better. Going beyond what anyone would expect, Roberts allowed us a deeper look. After the side effects of chemotherapy caused extensive hair loss, Roberts appeared on national television last November, and shaved her head bald. Roberts said the experience of seeing your hair fall out in large clumps and then shaving it, is “devastating and draining.” Somehow, millions of onlookers only saw class and grace.

"First let me remind you that I am a black woman and I did not want to lose my hair. But I sat there in front of 5 million people bald as an eagle with my head held up high," she says. "And if I can save another life, inspire someone to get screened or get treatment, then it is was all worth it."

Roberts’ personal mission is to continue to change the face of breast cancer—so that we see more women surviving and thriving when properly treated.

Her message to the black community is to break the stigma of cancer in our community. There is no shame in cancer.

And certainly no shame in her game. In February, Roberts strut down the Isaac Mizrahi runway wigless in a stunning red dress with courage, charisma, and an “I’m coming out” attitude of Diana Ross proportions. "I have loads of hats, scarves and wigs, but to be honest, off set I rarely use them," Roberts says.

Though Roberts has undoubtedly inspired millions with or without cancer to take another look at their lives, their health and their purpose, she is certain that by sharing her story and receiving the countless numbers of prayers, emails and well wishes of strangers, she has, indeed, become the blessed one.

"I never imagined the gift it would become. I have received far more than I have given," Roberts says. 

This story originally appeared in FOCUS, the quarterly publication of the New York Amsterdam News. http://www.amsterdamnews.com/ . Reprinted with permission.

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