Robin Roberts: “My Sister Gave Me Life”

An image of Robin Roberts sitting at her GMA desk

In 2007, the world wept when they learned of Robin Roberts’ cancer battle – she had been diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. In 2012, they were again devastated when the co-anchor of Good Morning America announced she was suffering from MDS as a result of her breast cancer treatment.

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Once again, Robin has made a victorious return to Good Morning America after recovering from a live-saving bone marrow transplant. While the world marvels at her grace and indomitable spirit of optimism, African-American women proudly celebrate her sisterhood.

For many Black women, when Roberts was diagnosed, breast cancer finally had a face….and it was as devastating as if a friend or family member had been diagnosed.

Two years earlier, in June 2005, after a 5-year stint as an ESPN sportscaster, Robin was promoted to co-anchor of GMA. Like a bright smile rapidly spreading across the face of the nation, Robin, along with co-host George Stephanopoulos, became a friendly, familiar, trusted face on the popular morning show.

Never was Robin’s strength more apparent than when she vowed to beat it and return to her GMA chair. Quietly turning tragedy into inspiration, Robin allowed the world to watch as she bravely underwent surgery, before going on to complete chemotherapy, followed by radiation treatments.

Robin’s gift to women all over the world was her teaching – by example – the importance of early diagnosis in improving your chances of surviving breast cancer.

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By January of 2008. after making a full recovery, we cheered as we watched Robin Roberts celebrate her victory over breast cancer with a triumphant return to Good Morning America.

Five years after beating breast cancer, in January of 2012, the world was once again stunned and shocked when Robin Roberts bravely announced yet another life and death battle had presented itself in her life. Ironically enough, Robin received the diagnosis on the very day that Good Morning America finally beat the Today Show for the first time in 16 years. Her announcement was simple and courageous;

“Today, I want to let you know that I’ve been diagnosed with MDS or myelodysplastic syndrome. It’s a disease of the blood and bone marrow and was once known as pre-leukemia.”

“I don’t want to be sick again. I’ve been sick — I don’t feel sick right now,” Roberts reasoned. “I don’t want to be bald and throwing up again. But then, I [say to myself] ‘Do you want to live?’ Yeah, I want to live.”

The beloved news anchor’s sister, and a mother-of-three, Sally-Ann Roberts, said how she had been so desperate to be a match for her sister, she and her friends made a prayer circle around the test kit.

When she was declared by doctors to be a perfect match and did the procedure with no hesitation, giving her sister the much needed bone marrow and helping her to be healthy once again

“I don’t feel any fear about the procedure,” Sally Ann said back in 2012. “I pray for Robin to have three things: Supernatural strength, supernatural wisdom and supernatural favor.”

Even though Sally Ann was praised by Robin as “giving her life”, she had one ulterior motive she confessed right before surgery: “I want to be here to celebrate Robin’s 90th birthday — because that will make me 98,” she joked.

Amazingly enough, once again Robin’s selfless desire to share her fight for life motivated people in a mighty way. Noting that bone marrow donors are scarce, particularly for African-American women, Robin encouraged everyone to sign up on a donor registry.

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Be-the-Match Registry, a nonprofit organization run by the National Marrow Donor Program, experienced an 1,800% spike in donors the day Ms. Roberts went public with her illness.

Since announcing her diagnosis, more than 56,000 people have come forward to register to become bone marrow donors. Robin was fortunate enough to have a sister who was an excellent match which greatly improved her chances for a cure.