ABC News’ Felicia Patinkin reports:
From the moment “GMA” anchor Robin Roberts revealed she had myelodysplastic syndrome or MDS last June, her fight became the fight of family, friends, and viewers, who all came together to join #TeamRobin. Roberts’ spirit was brightened as she watched “GMA” from the sidelines and saw the rainbow wristbands with her message of “Light, Love, Power and Presence,” the anchor teams’ fuzzy green froggy slippers, and shout outs from viewers and celebrity guests.
For Roberts and millions of people facing illness, support can be the difference between hope and despair.
Take Hilarie LaTurno of Mt. Prospect, Ill. The 49-year-old is bravely battling ovarian cancer and gets through the long chemotherapy treatments with a smile thanks to the unwavering support of her band of best friends, nicknamed “Team Hilarie.”
LaTurno’s group of 17 women — some who have known each other since the third grade — have been by her side every step of the way, even choreographing elaborate surprises to keep her smiling. For the last nine weeks, her 11-by-15 foot room at the Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago has been host to everything from chants, costumed cheerleaders and even a “Gangham Style” parody, courtesy of her Deacon.
Team Hilarie’s weekly rituals have become a bright spot for the entire chemo floor. The sound of laughter spills out into the halls.
“I happened to take care of her one day and they brought craft hour,” Nurse Deborah Rimmelle of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Unit said. “I’ve seen lots of teams come in. I’ve never seen the variety that they bring, the laughter … and to be honest with you, there are days I come in and I just walk in and you just smile and you think, ‘God, she is such a lucky woman.’”
“Good Morning America” joined LaTurno for her tenth treatment, where he team had coordinated an extra special surprise. LaTurno as usual didn’t know quite what to expect.
“It’s like a day of adventure. It’s like a Thelma and Louise,” she said. “Like, what’s going to happen today?”
After a quick rehearsal, lots of props and some bedazzled matching t-shirts, the gang descended upon her hospital room, singing “I’ll Be There for You,” the theme song from the hit show “Friends.” To make it extra special, “Team Hilarie” changed the words to “We’ll be there for you, no matter how bad we sing!”
“Laughter definitely is the best medicine out there,” LaTurno said. “I do cackle. I cackle to the point like I’m peeing in my pants, cackle.”
Research shows laughter has been linked to decreasing stress and pain, even improving immunity and reducing blood pressure.
“When you have such a support you feel that there is such a wall behind you that you can’t fall,” LaTurno said. “You look at it a whole different way.”
Her husband, Michael, and 25-year-old daughter, Brittney, call “Team Hilarie” a blessing.
“It’s tough enough to face it as a family alone, but when I know she’s going to see her girlfriends I know her spirits pick up and therefore the spirits of the whole family pick up,” he said.
“I feel like I’ve gained like 10 aunts along the way,” Brittney added.
But in the end it is all about LaTurno, the captain of “Team Hilarie,” who knows Thursday is chemo day and still has a reason to smile.
“Without them it would be just another bad Thursday,” she said. “Laying in a chemo bed. Now it’s a day of celebration.”
Robin Roberts returns to “GMA” on Wednesday, Feb. 20. CLICK HERE to Follow Robin’s Journey