As Robin Roberts begins her long treatment for MDS -- myelodysplastic syndrome -- I figured it was a good moment to remind readers, or at least remind myself, why Roberts is so important and why we should care about the outcome.
And make no mistake: This is a very serious illness. Dr. Ruthee Lu Bayer, director of stem cell transplantation at North Shore University Hospital, told me yesterday “this process of stem cell transplantation is becoming more and more routine” (the procedure Roberts is expected to undergo) but that long-term survival rate is 50 percent. She did add that with her sister Sally-Ann as the donor, “there is a chance, and I would say it's a good chance, she will be OK. I have many patients in my practice right now that have been in the same boat she is and they're doing quite well.”
Recovery, Bayer said, could still take months.
So back to that reminder. “GMA” would not be storming the gates of the morning TV kingdom right now had Roberts not been along for this long and difficult ride. “GMA” couldn't knock off “Today" -- not even get close -- with two of the most experienced broadcasters in the world at the helm -- Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson. It was Robin, with an extraordinarily able assist from George Stephanopoulos, who got it here. She is the core of this show -- its soul and beating heart.
Viewers, I am convinced, come for her -- her native optimism, and congeniality, and sense of fairness. Roberts is stripped of irony, of cynicism. There's not a hint of it, even the slightest tincture of it. That's remarkable really, considering the hour of the day -- which would normally demand some sort of bitter edge from those required to toil during it (and the hours do begin at 4 a.m., ending at least at 6 p.m., usually later.)
Roberts isn’t so much a “sunny” personality -- though she is undeniably that -- as much as she is a fully human one. Best reminder of that was her remarkable coverage of Katrina, when she broke down in tears near her parent's home in Pass Christian, Miss. It was just one of the absolute standout moments of the coverage anywhere, bringing to millions of home the full force of the tragedy and loss.
I've posted the clip below -- the time “GMA” went back for the 5th anniversary. Roberts later wrote that she thought the tears would get her fired -- instead she put a stunning human face on the catastrophe.
Morning TV is, really, about “family" -- that silly oft-tossed around word that highly paid personalities insist they are collective members of. But in fact it is true -- every day, they pop into your home at a time when the most fundamental pre-coffee urge is to throw something at the TV set rather than listen to what someone is babbling about.
But Roberts -- soothing, intelligent, and utterly entirely human -- negates that urge, then abolishes it. She's insinuated herself into the hearts of millions of viewers simply by being . . . herself. She is truly a remarkable broadcaster.
But no time now to get maudlin. She'll be fine. Even so, I can't even begin to imagine what “GMA” will be like without her, even for the few weeks -- or worst case, longer -- when she is out this fall.
In her lovely book, “From the Heart,” she wrote: “I am struck by how frequently in life we are tested by adversity. If we allow ourselves to use it as a lesson and a path forward we can emerge from our pain on the other side, stronger and more alive than before.”
And, of course, she will. That clip:
Photo: Diane Sawyer joins “<a href="/topics/Good_Morning_America">Good Morning America</a>” host Robin Roberts, center, and Roberts' sister Sally-Ann Roberts. Robin Roberts announced on Monday's show that she has been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome and that her sister donate bone marrow for a transplant as “pretreatment” for the disease. (June 11, 2012)