Cancer Isn't One Size Fits All

Robin Roberts on living and working with cancer, with help from family, friends.

ByABC News
October 7, 2008, 5:25 PM

Oct. 8, 2008— -- You hear people say cancer is a journey, and I never quite understood what they meant. I was like, "What do you mean, 'journey'?" I was feeling fine. I didn't feel sick. The only thing I knew was that I had a lump. And it was cancer. And I had decisions to make.

I decided to continue working during treatment and reveal my diagnosis on the air.

It was a hard decision, and my mother really helped me, because she was the one who basically said, "We don't roll like that. That's now how we do it."

She said, "In our family, it's been about being of service to others. It's not about us."

Click Here to read an excerpt from Roberts' book. You may visit the ABC News store to buy a copy of Robin Roberts' "Nightline" special.

At "Good Morning America," my other family, we don't take it lightly that we're invited into people's homes to have breakfast with them every morning. And I didn't want viewers to hear it from anyone else.

The first time I was told, "You're a survivor," was very early on. My doctor said that, and I know I was just looking at him, thinking, "You've got to be kidding me. I'm feeling anything but."

Surviving Chemo

The idea was to have surgery and get rid of the tumor and get on with my life, until they got a look at it. Once they got it under the microscope, they said the tumor was nasty.

And I remember going, "What do you mean, nasty?"

I was told that I would need chemotherapy and then radiation. And that was the first and only time that I said, "I may die." I never thought of it before then.

What helped me to get that thought out of my mind was to keep working. I was craving normalcy. I tried to tell my oncologist, "OK, tell you what, this is how it's gonna go, doctor: So, I'll have chemo on Friday, rest on the weekend, and I'll be back sitting next to Diane on Monday."

I read everything I could about chemotherapy and side effects, but until you are sitting in that chemo chair, the bottom line is you have no idea.

During the first treatment I was sitting there saying, "OK, I'm ready!" And they gave me the chemo and I thought, "That's it? OK."

The second day -- OK.

Third day -- not so good.

Fourth day -- uh-oh.

I could fool myself for only so long. I was starting to look like a person fighting cancer, and I was told during that time I would most likely lose my hair because of the type of chemo I was receiving.

Sure enough, it happened almost like clockwork, shortly after the second treatment. I was in the bathroom and my hair was starting to come out in clumps, and I just slithered down to the floor and I was just bawling.