Robin Roberts’ Candid Conversation With Diane Sawyer on MDS, Being a ‘Symbol of Hope’

ABC News

Robin Roberts made her return to “Good Morning America” Wednesday, five months to the day since she underwent a bone marrow transplant to treat myelodysplastic syndrome or MDS, a rare blood disorder.

For the “GMA” anchor, anchoring again after 174 days was a major milestone. From coming to terms with her life-threatening diagnosis, to intensive chemotherapy, to the transplant and recovery process, the last year has been the toughest fight of her life, she said. She went through 30 days of complete isolation to protect against infection. There were days when she struggled to eat, to drink, and others where she was in a coma-like state.

Roberts sat down with her friend and colleague, ABC News’ “World News” anchor Diane Sawyer, before she returned to the anchor chair and the morning television world she left behind, opening up in a candid conversation about how far she’s come.

“When you wake up in the morning, what’s different now?” Sawyer asked.

“It’s hard to explain to people how much better you feel every day, but to actually wake up and go, ‘Boy, I thought I felt good yesterday. I really feel good today’ -- it’s something I’ve never experienced before,” Roberts, 52, said. “I’ve always been athletic and in good health and [doing] yoga and Pilates and those types of things, but I can never remember a time when I was so aware of how I was feeling and for so long.”

Watch "20/20" TONIGHT at 10 p.m. ET for a behind-the-scenes look at Roberts' journey.

Through her recovery, Roberts has relied on the support of family, friends and viewers, who followed her health and offered well-wishes on social media. For other patients battling MDS or fighting illness, Roberts’ story served as an inspiration.

“I’m so grateful that people see me as a symbol of hope,” she said. She told Sawyer of an encounter last weekend on Twitter with a young man whose mother is fighting MDS.
“I talked to a woman over the weekend. Her son tweeted me … it said, ‘My mother’s going through MDS. She’s in the hospital. Her sister was a match. It would mean everything if you would just call her.’ So, I told him, ‘Give me a number and I would talk to her,’” she recalled.

When Roberts called, the woman was walking around the nurses’ station – just as she used to do. “The nurse answered the phone and said … ‘She’s walking,’ and I thought, ‘This is great, she’s up, she’s out! You know?’And so we had this wonderful, wonderful conversation that only the two of us can understand.”

“Many people want to help [but] unless you’ve gone through that,” Roberts said, “I could tell her little things that I did that were effective and that. I hang up the phone and I go, this is why. Okay, I got it. I got it. I didn’t know anybody. I couldn’t pick up the phone and call anybody. I didn’t know anybody who had gone through this. ….. It makes it worth it. This really makes it worth it.”

Having fought so hard to regain her strength, Roberts said she relies on imagery and visualization now to take her to her happy place, Key West, Fla., where she goes to rest and renew her spirit.

“I actually will close my eyes and my happy place, my safe place is Key West… is seeing the sunrise. Having my Cuban coffee in one hand, watching the sun rise and the beginning of a new day. And I think that’s partly because I’ve been associated with morning shows for the majority of my career. I love the morning. Momma always used to say this: ‘It’s like a clean slate!’ You get to start all over again and when I do have those dark moments, another thing that Mom said: ‘If you’re having a bad day, end it. Go to bed.’”

READ MORE: Next Steps in Robin's Recovery

To find out more about bone marrow donation and sign up for a registration kit from the Be the Match Registry, CLICK HERE.

CLICK HERE to Follow Robin's Journey