Can­cer made me stronger

Would you rather be… Thin or Strong? Sharp or Sexy? The sur­pris­ing re­sults from our Healthy Now sur­vey,

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If you’re look­ing for some­one who de­fines strength un­der fire, you’ll find no bet­ter role model than Robin Roberts, Good Morn­ing

Amer­ica’s co-an­chor since 2005 and a two-time can­cer sur­vivor.

Roberts was first di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer in 2007 and then, in 2012, was di­ag­nosed with myelodys­plas­tic syn­drome, a rare and of­ten fa­tal blood dis­ease. In fact, she just cel­e­brated her six-year “birth­day,” mean­ing it has been six years since her sis­ter Sally-Ann do­nated the bone mar­row needed for Roberts’ life­sav­ing transplant.

Her health jour­ney made her par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in the re­sults of our re­cent Pa­rade/Cleve­land Clinic sur­vey, which re­vealed that Amer­i­cans are re­think­ing what it means to be healthy. In­stead of fo­cus­ing on meet­ing so­ci­ety’s unrealistic body stan­dards, re­spon­dents were more con­cerned with be­ing seen as pos­i­tive, men­tally sharp and bal­anced. They chose strong over thin and smart over sexy. We knew Roberts would have a lot to say about what it means to be healthy to­day.

Strong is the new healthy

“Thank you for say­ing be­ing phys­i­cally and men­tally strong is the new healthy, be­cause I be­lieve ev­ery­thing I have faced—whether at GMA or with my health chal­lenges—is as much men­tal as it is phys­i­cal,” Roberts, 57, says while sip­ping warm wa­ter with le­mon dur­ing our in­ter­view at GMA ’s Times Square stu­dio. “My mantra is ‘I have to change the way I think in or­der to change the way I feel.’ That gets me mo­ti­vated.”

An­other study rev­e­la­tion: While many of us are cop­ing with a health is­sue, that doesn’t mean we have to lead un­healthy lives. In fact, the sur­vey re­vealed that 67 per­cent of Amer­i­cans be­lieve it’s pos­si­ble to bal­ance be­ing healthy and deal­ing with a chronic ill­ness, some­thing that res­onated deeply with Roberts.

“It’s funny to say, after go­ing through can­cer twice, that I feel stronger than I ever have in my en­tire life, but I can

sin­cerely say that and it’s true,”she says.

Not that Roberts con­sid­ers hav­ing can­cer a bless­ing. “I’m not go­ing to be one of those peo­ple who says can­cer was the best thing that hap­pened to me,” says Roberts, who chron­i­cled her jour­ney in her 2014 mem­oir, Ev­ery­body’s Got

Some­thing, in­clud­ing the 100 days of be­ing shut off from the out­side world after her bone mar­row transplant, time she needed to re­build her im­mune sys­tem.

“No, can­cer wasn’t the best thing that hap­pened to me, but fight­ing off two life-threat­en­ing ill­nesses taught me so much about who I am,” she says. “When I was di­ag­nosed, I had taken such pride in eat­ing right, not smok­ing, and drink­ing in mod­er­a­tion, but can­cer doesn’t dis­crim­i­nate. I’ll never for­get: My doc­tor said my life­style didn’t pre­vent me from get­ting can­cer, but he said, ‘Boy, it’s go­ing to help you fight it.’ And so that’s how I look at it.”

Find­ing healthy habits that stick

While Roberts is quick to call her health jour­ney a roller coaster, she’s for­giv­ing about the ups and downs.

“It’s all about giv­ing my­self a break, know­ing that I’m go­ing to fall off the wagon and not beat­ing my­self up for it,” she says. “We all know what we need to do, but are we there to open our minds and say, ‘I’m ready’? That’s what my jour­ney has been.”

Stay­ing con­sis­tent—whether it’s sip­ping kom­bucha [a fer­mented tea bev­er­age] ev­ery morn­ing at 7:30 or find­ing a new ex­er­cise reg­i­men and fall­ing in love with it—re­mains a goal for Roberts, who says she loves va­ri­ety in her work­outs.

“I’ve al­ways been ath­letic, but I find that to be able to keep fit you can’t get bored,” she says. “So right now I’m in this Pelo­ton craze [an at-home ex­er­cise bike work­out that dig­i­tally con­nects the rider with a com­pet­i­tive cy­cling class]. I love that you can go for as long as you want, it can be high in­ten­sity or it can be low im­pact.”

Ul­ti­mately, Roberts is grate­ful she’s strong enough to work out. “I ex­er­cise and do things now not be­cause I want to but be­cause I can,” she says. “There was a time not so long ago that I couldn’t do that.”

Off the GMA set, Roberts has be­come known for her op­ti­mistic so­cial me­dia posts, such as Mon­day Mo­ti­va­tion, Wed­nes­day Wis­dom and Thank­ful and Thriver Thurs­days—all meant to in­spire her nearly half-mil­lion In­sta­gram fol­low­ers.

“What I re­ally love about my In­sta­gram is that, while I re­spond as much as I can, the group re­sponds to each other, they lift each other up,” she says. “They have be­come this won­der­ful fam­ily and tribe. There’s a lot go­ing on in the world to­day, and I have long be­lieved that op­ti­mism is a mus­cle that gets stronger with use. When chal­leng­ing times come, I look for that sil­ver lin­ing.”

Roberts cred­its this glasshalf-full at­ti­tude to her par­ents. Raised on the Mis­sis­sippi Gulf Coast, her father, Lawrence, who died in 2004, was a colonel in the United States Air Force and a mem­ber of the famed Tuskegee Air­men. Her mother, Luci­mar­ian, who died in 2012, was a so­cial worker and ed­u­ca­tor and was the first African-Amer­i­can to serve as chair­woman of the Mis­sis­sippi State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion. It was her par­ents who in­spired her and her two sis­ters and brother to en­gage in a life­time of ser­vice.

“My par­ents came from very hum­ble begin­nings, and I saw that from an early age,” she says. “But they al­ways helped oth­ers. For ex­am­ple, it would be Thanks­giv­ing and some­times air­men and -women couldn’t get home for the hol­i­days and there would be some­one at the ta­ble. I’d say, ‘Is that a cousin?’ and it was, ‘No, that’s some­one who couldn’t get home.’When you’re around that all the time and it’s not a big deal, that’s what you do.”

After study­ing at South­east­ern Louisiana Univer­sity, where she be­came a star bas­ket­ball player, Roberts be­gan her ca­reer at her lo­cal TV sta­tion, and at age 29, after work­ing in cities in­clud­ing Nash­ville and At­lanta, she joined ESPN as a host of

Sport­sCen­ter. Then, after sev­eral years as an ABC con­tribut­ing cor­re­spon­dent and news reader, Roberts joined Di­ane Sawyer and Char­lie Gib­son in 2005 as a

GMA co-an­chor. De­spite ca­reer high­lights, in­clud­ing cov­er­age of countless news events, such as Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina and the in­au­gu­ra­tion of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, as well as the Academy Awards, where she has hosted the red car­pet preshow, Roberts says she rev­els in down­time with her part­ner, Am­ber Laign.

“Am­ber—you don’t have

“Faith, fam­ily, friends. Sur­round your­self with that,” says Roberts, here with her part­ner, Am­ber Laign.

enough time for me to sing her praises,” she says with a laugh. “When I was first di­ag­nosed in 2007, Am­ber was work­ing in fash­ion. She would walk by the stu­dio and wave—it was early on in the re­la­tion­ship, when ev­ery­thing’s new. One day at din­ner, I had two hairs on my head, and she said, ‘I quit my job. I want to be a mas­sage ther­a­pist. I want to heal peo­ple.’ She said watch­ing me go through my health bat­tle in­spired her.”

Roberts re­mains close with her fam­ily and stays con­nected via group text mes­sages that of­ten in­clude silly jokes sent by her brother, Lawrence Jr.

“Your tribe de­ter­mines your vibe, and my fam­ily is my tribe,” she says. “I ap­pre­ci­ate the fact that my mother and father es­tab­lished a strong foun­da­tion for us to re­main a fam­ily. We make time for each other, and my sis­ter saved my life, so I’ve got to be nice to her— your sib­ling saves your life, that’s a big one!”

Rise and shine

Fi­nally, with an alarm that rings ev­ery morn­ing at 3:15, Roberts is of­ten asked, “How do you get enough sleep?” For starters, she’s in

“He brings us joy and he brings oth­ers joy.” That’s Lil Man Lukas, the Ti­betan spaniel–pa­pil­lon mix (now In­sta­gram star) Roberts and Laign res­cued.

bed by 9 p.m. most nights.

“Sleep, my friends—it’s not a lux­ury, it’s a ne­ces­sity,” she says. “There are times when I want to work out but I’m tired. I will go to bed and the rest will do me bet­ter than work­ing out.”

Stay­ing calm in a hec­tic world is an­other daily goal.

“I’ll never for­get one crazy morn­ing on set with Ge­orge Stephanopou­los,” her GMA coan­chor. “He was just so peace­ful. I said, ‘Dude, what are you do­ing? I want some of that.’”

It was Stephanopou­los who turned Roberts on to Tran­scen­den­tal Med­i­ta­tion, some­thing she does ev­ery morn­ing at 3:30.

“I’m telling you, that half hour of med­i­ta­tion is like five hours of sleep,” she says. “And, yes, I’ve got­ten to that age where I’ll take a lit­tle 20-minute nap dur­ing the day. I find it’s re­ally help­ful.”

With her con­fi­dent ex­te­rior and sunny out­look, it’s easy to think Roberts wouldn’t get emo­tional in an in­ter­view, but when asked what the younger Robin Roberts would say to the 50-some­thing ver­sion of her­self, the tears be­gan to fall down her cheeks.

“The younger Robin Roberts would tell me it’s go­ing to be OK,” she says. “You’re go­ing to lose your health, you’re go­ing to lose your mom and dad, but you know what? You’re go­ing to be stronger than you think you’ll be. It’s go­ing to be OK; you’re go­ing to fig­ure it out.”

Robin Roberts was a DJ? Go to for our be­hind-thescenes video.

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