Robin Roberts is on the number one morning show in America. As one of the most well-respected and recognized television personalities, she’s given Good Morning America viewers an intimate look at her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, allowing cameras to capture her while going through chemotherapy and much of her time was spent in hospital beds instead of her anchor chair. After a successful recovery, it was only a few years later that Robin learned she had MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome), a blood condition that can affect those who have gone through extensive cancer treatment.
GMA fans have seen Robin’s triumphant return twice now, as she had a bone marrow transplant from her sister, Sally-Ann, that gave her a brand new life. (Robin now considers herself two years old, counting her transplant day as her rebirth.) And with that rebirth has also come an even more special insight into the woman that is Robin Roberts. This past March, Robin let viewers in on one of the most important relationships in her life, one that helped her through two miraculous journeys and recoveries that have made her the happiest and healthiest she’s ever been: Her partner, Amber Laign.
In her new book Everybody’s Got Something, Robin is at her most honest as she tells her story. She spent 30 days in a hospital room, right after losing her mother. The next 70 days were focused heavily on staying alive, hoping the transplant would take and that no infections from the outside world would threaten that goal. Friends and family donned masks while Robin was isolated. Her dog, KJ, had to be taken in by friends. Her beloved sisters and brother came to New York as much as possible, while other friends from other parts of the United States also visited to cook meals that Robin would try to force down her sore throat. And Amber, who has been with Robin for nine years, was there to be with her through it all.
“I would be amazed when my family would call and I couldn’t answer a question, and I would give it over to Amber and she started rattling off all these things,” Robin said in her dressing room backstage after an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. “I’m like ‘How do you…how do you know those things?’ And it’s so important to have someone there by your side that can help navigate and also be the one to — she was the gatekeeper — to be able to give out the information to people and let them know and then take anything off of my shoulders.”
Robin noted while talking with Ellen that Amber is a private person who wasn’t interested in the spotlight, but that it was very important that she be thanked publicly along with all of Robin’s family, friends, doctors and other support systems. So when Robin posted a thank you on her public Facebook page, she listed her partner Amber and officially came out as a woman in a same-sex relationship.
What’s so refreshing about Everybody’s Got Their Something is not only Amber’s presence in the story, but how she doesn’t have to be explained. Robin does not write down to readers, feeling compelled to expand on why she’s in love with a woman or how she came to find that part of herself. It’s not part of the story she’s telling. (She told People magazine she came out to her family 30 years ago.) Instead, there’s no asking the reader to ponder where or how Amber fits in to Robin’s life — she just does. She is Robin’s partner and she even gets the chance to speak for herself in some parts of the book, including a very humorous but honest chapter about the strain being a caretaker of your partner can have on your relationship, like when Amber went home for her high school reunion and Robin was simultaneously re-admitted to the hospital.
“When we almost got thrown out of the hospital,” Robin said, laughing. “My siblings were like ‘Do you have to be that honest?’ But also there are a lot of relationships that don’t survive a health crisis like this, much less two. And I thought to be authentic and to give the voice–and it was funny how Amber and I had differing opinions on certain things. I can see a caregiver reading the book going ‘Yeah! Give it to her. Give it to her, Amber!” And others like myself saying “Oh come on!” So it just..it gave it balance and I really wanted her voice and she is a caretaker.”
Robin and Amber, a striking blonde who works as a massage therapist, live separately in Manhattan but spend most of Robin’s off-camera time together in Connecticut or Key West. They have a core group of friends that includes Robin’s co-anchors at GMA, and Robin writes happily of attending Sam Champion‘s wedding to his partner last year. Amber is not a part of Robin’s circle, though: She is family. One of the most apparent things in the memoir is how important family is to Robin, especially her late mother.
“I wrote a letter to my mother at the end of the book and she is so much throughout the book, it’s almost like she’s the alpha and the omega,” Robin said. “She begins the book, she ends the book and so for people to tell me they’re thinking of giving it to their mom, it’s a perfect gift for me.”
Despite being diagnosed with two life-threatening illnesses and facing setbacks that might force others into deep depression or self-pity, Robin’s story is one of positivity and acceptance. There isn’t any sugarcoating going on, though. Having to leave her job just as GMA beat The Today Show, putting off the grief of losing her mother to endure her own battle for life, and attempting to balance a return to her career while also being mindful of what her body has been through were challenges for Robin. But the reality is that truly, everyone has a challenge, or multiple challenges, that puts them in similar life-altering positions.
“I don’t want people to feel that this book is only for readers who’ve had some sort of illness. It’s for everybody, because everybody’s got something and I don’t know what your something is—it could be a relationship, it could be financial, I don’t know what it is,” Robin said. “But I do know that if we get caught up in what that problem is and focusing on the problem and not the solution—I feel that I give some insight into the fact that whatever we’re going through, whatever that is, that we’re all a little bit stronger than we think we are.”
One thing that Robin’s mother instilled in her was the need “to make your mess your message.” For Robin, those messes were her illnesses, not the fact that she is a gay woman. Although some might feel she was hiding a big facet of her life while being so revealing of others, it is perfect timing for Robin Roberts to be presenting her full, true self with those who love her, which is not only her friends, family and doctors, but also America.
It was powerful to watch Robin and Ellen talk openly on The Ellen DeGeneres Show about having known one another’s families for years, and how Robin’s mother was so upset over the way Ellen was treated when she came out more than a decade ago. There is nothing more heartwarming and stirring than watching them have a real conversation about their relationships with their female partners, and how they are such successful women who are deserving of the kind of love they want. (Robin told People her mother accepted her girlfriends and had an “understanding” about her sexuality, loving her unconditionally.)
Like Ellen, Robin is recognizable to people of all different kinds—anyone who has a television. She’s friends with country singers like Brad Paisley, hosted the CMAs and has worked in the world of sports as a reporter for ESPN. She’s spent time with President Bush and probably interviewed some homophobic, racist, sexist or otherwise unkind people in her time as a journalist. Robin Roberts’ revolution might not be as loud as some want it to be, but her being alive is so much more than just a personal triumph. It’s a win for us all. The message she hopes fans will take away from her story is one of resilience and creating your own happiness, even in the wake of tragedy.
“I think if people would do that for themselves, document their lives, that they would be pleasantly surprised and go, ‘You know what? I do know how. I do have the wherewithal to get through whatever it is that I’m facing.’ So I’m hopeful,” Robin said, “because ‘everybody’s got something’ is not just a challenge, everybody’s got something to give — a resource, love, kindness, a hug. We all have something to help us get through our challenges in life.”
Those challenges can only be faced down through the kind of grace under pressure exemplified by Robin Roberts.