'Good Morning America' co-anchor Robin Roberts returns to work tomorrow (Feb. 20). The 52-year-year-old cancer survivor, who underwent a bone marrow transplant last Fall, believes she is up for the task. But friends and co-workers are not so sure. Roberts was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. Last year she learned she had a rare blood disorder called myelodysplastic syndrome -- possibly a side effect of the anticancer drugs.
Another side effect of chemotherapy drugs -- baldness -- means Roberts will have to wear a custom lacefront wig on the set.
"Whatever. I'm thankful I have a pretty good shaped head," she says in an interview published in the Feb. 25th issue of PEOPLE. She is confident that her hair will grow back, but she isn't so sure about the 30-pound weight loss.
"It's been hard to put [the weight] back on, a first in my life," she admits. "But I gained a pound last week in New Orleans. Woo-hoo!"
Every pound gained is a victory for a woman who was nearly defeated by medical setbacks and the loss of her mother, Lucimarian Tolliver Roberts, 88, who died on August 30.
"I don't care how old you are; when you're sick, you want your mom," she said, choking up. "And I wanted my mom."
On Oct. 11, Roberts was finally released from the hospital. But just as she stepped outside the hospital doors, "I had a panic attack," she said. She felt safe inside the hospital. But outside in the real world, she had to wear a face mask and worry about contracting infections such as the common cold, which could kill her.
Then, in November, 2 months after the bone-marrow transplant, Roberts contracted a CMV herpes-like infection, usually associated with AIDS. She was back in the hospital -- another setback.
Paralyzed with fear that her body was rejecting the transplanted cells, Roberts pressed her doctors to tell her the truth. "You guys aren't telling me everything. I'm going downhill. "It's not working," she recalls saying.
"I was scared beyond belief," she told PEOPLE. "I freaked out."
The infection was cleared up in six weeks and Roberts was back on the road to recovery.
She is eager to return to her anchor desk at GMA -- if only to prove to the doubters that that's where she belongs.
She is re-acclimating herself to receiving 3:45 a.m. wake up calls. "I have not missed that alarm clock," she admits.
She adds: "There was a part of me at some point that was like, 'Do I want to do this?' But the overriding feeling is the joy of going back to something that brings me such pleasure... If the price is a 3:45 a.m. alarm clock, so be it!"
"You feel bad for so long, you just want to feel normal. And now I do," says Roberts.
Photo: Nigel Parry
Hair: Petula Skeete
Makeup: Helena George
Stylist: Deandre Tristan
Top and pants: St. John
Earrings: John Hardy