Rockin' Robin Roberts
Faith and Adversity
They've known each other since 2002, when Robin Roberts was named news anchor of Good Morning America and Lee Woodruff's husband, Bob, became the weekend anchor for ABC's World News. But it wasn't until several years ago that Roberts and Woodruff really bonded. In 2006 Woodruff's life was turned upside down after her husband sustained a traumatic brain injury while covering the Iraq War. A year later Roberts was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at age 46. Together they've learned a thing or two about the power of friendship, faith, and facing adversity head-on. Roberts recently became a supporter of Ford Warriors in Pink (ford.com/warriorsinpink), and as she marks the four-year anniversary of her diagnosis, we asked Woodruff to talk with her friend about what it takes to get through the bad times -- and the surprising good that can come from them.
Lee Woodruff: You are a few years out from kicking cancer. How do you live your life differently now, given what you went through?
Robin Roberts: I'm calmer about things. More at peace. If I stub my toe I'll still scream "ouch!" but otherwise it takes a lot to get under my skin. Things that used to bother me, like getting my hair wet in the rain, now make me laugh. I don't sweat the small stuff. I've always been a happy person, but in the aftermath of something big, like cancer, you realize how much needless worry we all go through as human beings. When I start getting worked up over something, I often ask myself, Would I want my final moments to be spent feeling this way?
LW: Are there things you want to do that you've decided you won't put off any longer?
RR: You mean like a bucket list? That's kind of a scary term.
LW: Why? Most of us have something big we want to accomplish. What is it for you?
RR: A couple years ago I watched from my apartment as Captain "Sully" Sullenberger landed that plane on the Hudson River. I was the second caller to 911. I thought about my father, who was a pilot, the whole time. I was in awe. And I told Sully that when I interviewed him later. A couple days after our interview, he sent me a gift certificate for flying lessons. I still haven't scheduled the first one, but now that I've said it out loud, I guess I have to do it!
LW: Let's go back a little bit. After your cancer diagnosis, what kind of mind-set did you adopt to pull through? You were a college basketball star. Did your background in sports help you here?
RR: I'm 5-foot-10 and have always played against taller opponents, so I had to develop a will to win along with my athletic ability. That will to win turned into the will to live. And I don't like to get beat -- not on the tennis court or the basketball court, and I sure didn't want to get beat by cancer. There was something about going public with it, kind of like when you announce, "I'm going to lose 20 pounds!" Once you tell people you're going to do everything in your power to beat cancer, you'd better mean it.
LW: I've spoken publicly about situational depression, when you can start to feel overwhelmed after a major life change like an illness, divorce, or job loss. It often sets in after the adrenaline stops. Did you experience it at all?
RR: I panicked a little bit after my treatment was done, because treatment is a game plan. And then treatment ends and it's kind of like, Okay, now what? I was never good as an athlete when people would play pickup ball. I did much better with a coach and a strategy. I got through the chemo and I felt like celebrating. But sure enough, all of a sudden I started to feel anxious about my health and depressed at times. For nine months I was checked by a doctor every day, and then, suddenly, I was on my own. I would get these aches in my back and my knees from the chemo. In the past I would have discounted it. Now I was convinced I had cancer in my bones.
LW: Did you seek help for depression?
RR: I met with a therapist. She wanted to prescribe an antidepressant, and I have no problem with people who take them, but in the end I didn't take medication. It wasn't because I thought it was bad -- I was afraid of becoming dependent. And that's the only reason. But the depression part of the journey is real. And I want people to know about it because I don't want them to wonder, What's wrong with me? I've gone through treatment. What's there to be depressed about?
LW: My faith kept me going in my dark days after Bob's injury. Has prayer played a role in your life?
RR: I've always been a spiritual person. I keep a daily devotional in my dressing room and at home that my family has read for generations. But now I find myself with my hands clasped and down on my knees a lot more. Every day before I go on the set I blow a kiss to my dad in heaven and ask him to be with Mama today [Roberts's mother, Lucimarian, 87, lives in Mississippi]. That has become part of my daily routine and if I forget for some reason, my entire GMA team reminds me.