Robin Roberts greeted a standing-room-only crowd on Sunday in New Orleans with her signature phrase: “Everybody’s got something.”
The co-anchor of ABC’s “Good Morning America” and sister of WWL-TV’s Sally-Ann Roberts was speaking to a group at Garden District Book Shop during a book signing for her best-selling memoir of the same name.
More than 100 turned out, many of whom were eager for a few words of advice on how to handle personal challenges. But many were also there to let the cancer and stem cell transplant survivor know how much inspiration they had derived from her courageous — and well-documented — battle with health issues over the past few years.
Roberts was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer in 2007, then discovered she had myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare blood disorder, in 2012. Roberts deflects credit for that philosophy to her mother, who died just days before her daughter was to receive a stem cell transplant from to treat her MDS.
“Everybody’s got something. Think about that. It’s something our dear mother would say to us when we were growing up,” Roberts said.
“Yes, my something was important, but we all have challenges. That phrase would give us help along the journey.”
Reared on the Gulf Coast, Roberts played basketball at Southeastern Louisiana University before going on to fulfill her dream of becoming a sports anchor. “Dream big — dreams are important. But you have to have goals,” she told the group. “Write them down, put them on paper.”
Because her passion is sports, Roberts said that she kept turning down offers as her career developed, at least until ABC’s Diane Sawyer “took a shine” to her.
“I devote a whole chapter to her in my book because she helped me understand that news was something I could do and wanted to do,” Roberts said.
Sawyer was more than a career guide for Roberts.
According to a passage in her book, Sawyer is a “constant source of comfort,” and the friend who “snuck in some Popeyes chicken” for Roberts to celebrate her last chemotherapy session.
Sawyer’s support relates to another theme that Roberts stressed: That everyone has something to deal with but also something to give.
For an oncologist in the audience who wanted to know how best to help a patient, Roberts offered insights.
“Bedside manner is so important — you have to give us hope,” she said.
“Be there for us. Be honest. Include our loved ones. My partner Amber (Laign) took meticulous notes, and they were invaluable when I couldn’t remember things.”
Roberts said that the hardest lesson for her to learn throughout her illness was “to be patient.”
“I have always been determined, so the hardest thing for me was to learn to slow down, to be present in the moment.
“Now that I am in the present, I am at peace,” she said. “Optimism is a muscle that gets stronger with use. You may have to change the way you think to change the way you feel.”
Editor’s note: This story was changed on May 20 to reflect that Sally-Ann Roberts works at WWL-TV.