The weekday news anchor of ABC’s “Good Morning America” was gripping his fellow ESPN alum’s hand Monday (June 11) as she made the announcement that she is starting treatments for the blood and bone-marrow disease MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome). As the week proceeds, Elliott still is coming to terms with that knowledge, which he freely admits has hit him deeply.
“You experience it on every level,” he tells Zap2it, “but the only one that matters is that a dear friend of mine is facing a new challenge. In your quiet moments, you can indulge your own sadness and your own fear about it … but really, you gather around the central idea to be here for her.
“She is almost too important to me, and to all of us here,” Elliott adds. “To see the strength and the resilience and the fortitude from her every day, and to know how long she carried this alone before she started telling us in preparation for the announcement, is a stunning thing.”
Elliott looks back to April 19 as a date when he “can’t imagine life being more extreme. The same day we learned we had won [the network-morning-show ratings race] was the day Robin was diagnosed.
“As much as I feel the highs and the lows once-removed, they’re obviously a billion times more for her. And it all comes back to, ‘What can I do for my friend Robin Roberts, and how can I help her through this?'”
Roberts told “GMA” colleagues of her condition, Elliott says, “a few days prior” to her public revelation. “We knew Monday was going to be her first date of treatment, and she was going to have a PICC line inserted into her arm, with a bandage that was going to be impossible to hide.
“Also, having made a public walk through a challenge once (with her breast cancer bout in 2007-08), she knows the power of inspiration, and she wanted to be open and out there with it. To find out was a blow unto itself, but you have to sort of put aside your feelings and just make sure she’s OK.”
Roberts’ sister, New Orleans television news anchor Sally-Ann Roberts, will be her donor for a bone-marrow transplant later this year. Since the news broke Monday, the number of donors in America has jumped 1,000 percent, as Elliott has reported on-air.
“There are positives here,” he stresses. “As Robin says all the time, ‘Make your mess your message.’ That’s what her mother told her when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and to increase the donor rolls by that much in two days is staggering. Whatever good can come of this, I can tell you that she is at the front of the line to make that happen. She’s a remarkable human being.”
As his “GMA” duties continue, Elliott also is prepping for what he says is being called “GAA” around ABC News already: “Good Afternoon America,” a midday spinoff that begins a two-month run Monday, July 9. He and “GMA” lifestyle anchor Lara Spencer will do extra duty daily in fronting the program, and he’s adjusting mentally for what will be a longer work day by definition.
“You finish at 9:01 a.m. and you come down a bit,” he reflects. “It’s just natural, and now, you have to kind of dig back in. I’ll have to get a swim in between the shows; it’s clearing the head, just tweaking little things here and there. I’ll also be enjoying some time with my daughter in [New York] in-between the shows. I’m going to try to keep it as normal as possible.”