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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  July 31, 2014 12:00am-12:31am PDT

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good evening from las vegas, i'm tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with robin roberts. the "good morning america" an core is now a new author. she recounts the last few years of her life, a turbulent time to say the least, including battling a rare blood disorder with a life-saving bone marrow transplant from her sister. glad you joined us. a conversation with robin roberts coming up right now. ♪
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>> announcer: and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. robin roberts, seven rules to live by was a new york times best seller. and her latest memory, "everybody's got something" is poised to receive that distinction as well. it's a candid and revealing memory that does not shy away from some of the most intimate aspects of fighting a blood disorder. it's a story of trial over triumph. you're on the west coast this
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time. you're in the chair. >> i know. >> i usually see you in the big satellite screen right there. >> it's always a pleasure to be in your presence in any way. may i say, congratulations on the star, on the hollywood walk of fame. >> i appreciate it. my momma is proud of me and i know your momma was proud of you. and your momma begins and ends this book. she ends it, the alpha and the omega of this text which i appreciate. it was your mother who told you that everybody's got something. >> yeah, you knew mama. you knew her. when i was a little kid, playing in mississippi and somebody would hurt my feelings or something, i was come in, she would say, oh, honey, everybody's got something. let's move on. and when i got older, and the challenges became little bit more than just someone picking on me. i remember in 2007 when i was diagnosed with cancer, she sweetly said, honey, everybody's got something. it was a way of saying, i see your something, i know. but you've got to realize that
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everybody goes through something. so what are you going to do? and that's whey tried to impart in this book. the life lessons that i learned to help me get through my something and hopefully get people on the road to something better. >> everybody has something and yet there are some of us who are tested time and time and time again. your mother was a person of a biding faith, az know well. >> yes. >> and i know she naught into you. and yet in the middle of this book, you were honest and candid and i'm glad you were, about the fact that youi inlooked up at g one day and asked questions, why are you test me so much? >> people have asked me, tavis, about me faith and going through something like this. yes, i got angry. and yes, i got mad. and i said, god can take it. >> yeah. >> he can take it. there's a reason and a purpose, you know, make your mess your message.
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there's something why you're going through this. so it took me a little longer. with breast cancer, i was like got my heavenly message. i'm supposed to let people know, especially in our community to get out there, get tested because early detection can save lives. i have to admit with this one, i was -- what? i didn't realize. i had never heard of a bone marrow transplant. i didn't know it was possible to donate your stem cells. so i'm very pleased we've been able to increase the donors that are registering. >> yeah. so we know that god can take it. >> yeah. >> the question is whether or not we can take it. now, there are those of us believe that god never puts more on us than we can bare, yet there are times i think, particularly given what you were up against, that we have to question whether or not we have the capacity the ability the wherewithal to actually endure. we know god can take it, but were you ever in doubt about whether or not you could take it? >> yes, i was in doubt. when you're told that you only have a year or two and the possibility of finding a donor at the time i didn't know my sister would be a perfect match,
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thank you, jesus. there are many times -- but then i realized, it was really funny, taf tis, especially when i was putting down the audio version of this. and i had to stop sometimes and i almost was -- who am i talking about? and i realized i was talking about me. the point being, we are all a little bit stronger than we think we are. i would not have thought at certain times in this journey that i would be here with you and that i would be the person that i am just so happy and filled with such gratitude. so i think there's a myth that people feel that people of success that we never are fearful. that we're never challenged. that we have some super nova -- no. we're like everybody else. and it's just not saying in that state. you have to change the way you think in order to change the way you feel. >> i hope this doesn't come wrong as sexist. you were good looking when you were bald, when you got medium hair, head full of hair because
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that smile just says everything. you chose -- clearly you signed off on this photo. tell me why. >> because i want people to know -- first of all, i have a good-shape head. thank you again. it helps. i don't want to find out again, but i'm glad i know that. but i really wanted -- because people sometimes will not seek treatment because there are fearful of losing their hair. and i wanted to show them, you know what -- i'm glad you said that. the smile is still there. the person is still there. if somebody is going through it, if it leads to something like that to know they too, just keep smiling. just keep smiling through it. >> tell me -- let me flip it now and go to the worst parts. give me some sense of what the worst days were like. >> worst days were post transplant -- well, worst day was losing my momma. losing my mother so close to transplant, it was just a few
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days before that. and i thought, you know, i've never gone through anything -- i didn't stub my toe without my momma being there. and to go through something like that. so losing my mother was -- it was -- it's something i'm still -- i had to put my grief on hold because the doctors were like -- we know this but you've got to be mentally -- it's as much mental as physical. but post transplant, tavis, when my throat felt like i had swallowed a blow torch. when i was unable to swallow, unable to eat, unable to think. there was one point that the nurses said they came into the room and i was hallucinating because i was on certain medications on a pain med machine, they said that i was at the foot of my bed interviewing walter kron cite. i was so out of it. but then i thought, well, i was still there because i knew i was a reporter. >> and not a bad interviewee. >> still looking for that silver lining. but those early days at the
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hospital, before knowing if sister sally cell's would take hold. there's something called graph versus host disease. lot of people suffer even after having a perfect match. so those early days were -- i was on these little -- i was on my bony knees praying constantly. >> yeah. i met your sister sally, know her fairly well down in new orleans, number of times over the years, what does a journey like this do for two sisters? >> i'm so thankful that my mother and father -- and they -- you know, my father was a tuskegee airman. he would clear his throat and we would clear the room. he was from that generation. and the famous words from momma, wait until your daddy gets home. >> that's right. >> right. wait until your daddy gets home. >> what you didn't want to hear. >> what did we do? why? but my folks wouldn't allow us
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to -- we were siblings and growing up, yeah, we would fuss at each other and have our challenges and that. but our parents were very good about, no, this is blood. you're going to work through this. and sally ann is eight years older than i am. i love what she said. she said i can't wait to celebrate your 90th birthday because that will mean i'm 98. we have that kind of bond. but there is something about -- i look at her now, tavis, whoo. when she said -- and i gave her an out when they determined one sister was not a match. and then sally ann was. and i gave her an out and said, you don't have to do this because it's an undertaking for that person, too. and when she said to me after some silence, which i was a little worried because sally is usually -- you know sally ann. but there was a bit of silence. she just quietly said, i just don't want to do this i was born to do this.
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so to have that kind of love is something else. >> your glam team does not want your makeup to run. >> i know. what you doing to me? these are tears of joy. all good. >> i understand. you're not indebted to your sister because she's your sister. and she said she was born to do it. how do you process that? >> that was one of the -- my siblings didn't know this. this was one of the last conversations i had with mom. she had a stroke and it was difficult for her to communicate, but she was able to do that. and she did not want me to treat her -- sally ann, any differently than my big brother butch and my sister dorothy. my mother was very big that we are all the same. we are all equal. that's why she always would go back to everybody has something that we all are like that. i think that my sister -- i often have to fuss with her. if you see sister sally, she is always looking up. she won't take the credit.
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she gives credit to god almighty. it's hard to sometimes -- sally ann, i realize that and i'm very thankful, but please know what you did. and her story is so powerful. she's gone around the country, encouraging people from all communities to register, to be a donor. my sister was the biggest baby when it came to pain. and for her to step up and for her to say, yes, there are some aspects of it that are uncomfortable, but to educate the country on what it's like to be a donor and i dedicate the book to her and to others. what a selfless act. what a selfless gift they give. >> for those of us that are sports fans, that means many of us, and i want to go specifically now inside the black community -- >> uh-huh. >> i've been praying so hard, just pulling and praying for you and pulling and praying for stew scott. >> oh, yes. >> what's up with the brothers and sisters at espn. used to be at espn. robin and stewart.
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you got through it and i'm praying for stewart to get through it. i'm a fan of his work. >> i am, too. >> it raises this question given what you and stewart and your sister sally ann have been doing. give us a sense of what you hope the message has been particularly for african-americans. >> well, i can say in particular with mds, which is what i had, myelodysplastic syndrome, once known as preleukemia and needing to that bone marrow transplant, what makes our culture so rich and beautiful, makes it hard to find a match. do you know that a bone marrow transplant is a possible cure for sickle cell anemia? there's 70 conditions where a bone marrow transplant can be a gift, can be of service? to just get the gift out. i didn't know sickle cell anemia -- a bone marrow, yes.
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that's what our message has been to not -- to -- make yourself available for the registry. when that call comes, make that decision with the doctors and know just what -- when you find people -- when i say everybody has something, it's not just a challenge. everybody also has something to give as a resource, as a gift, has something that can help us. >> we talked about your sister and their righteous role she played in this process. one of the most moving stories in this book, though, is the story of a friend of yours who was turning 50. and you scheduled a particular treatment to make sure that you get to that 50th birthday party. italy as i recall. >> uh-huh. because she was there at my 50th. >> tell me about this story. you're going through all this but you have got to get to this birthday party. >> i'm the sports person, goal
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oriented. like to have a goal. my goal was, okay, her 50th is in tuscany in september. if i can get there, chances are i'll be well enough to have the transplant. when i was first diagnosed in the spring and they said, do you have anything you want to do, i said i want to be there for all the birthday because all the friends were coming together. they were at my birthday a few years before that. and i didn't want to be -- you know, how sometimes the phone rings and you're like, oh, it's that friend. what happened now? oh, that -- and i never thought of myself as being that friend. and my friends never made me feel that way. but it was my way of saying, i'm still here. i know it is important for you and it's important for me to be there. and it really set -- you have to have those goals. that was a real goal of mine. and it was -- i often thought about tuscany when i was hallucinating and doing all those things and remembered that i was there. that i was still alive. i was having fine wine, laughing
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with friends, and the thing that my friends and i do, we don't elaborate gifts -- time. we spend time together. in fact, we have another 50th that's coming up. going to a dude ranch. that's love. can you see me at a dude ranch? but joe wants to go to a dude ranch and dude ranch we're going to. >> you're the sportswoman. you've done it all. >> yee-haw. >> talking about your friend turning 50 reminds me of this story that he or she that has friends must show himself or herself friendly. you have friends, you have to be friendly. this might come across as a softball but it's not. i am curious as to what you took away from this. you referenced during this conversation the fact that i recently got a star on the walk of fame, i did and i was honored to do it. i walked out and saw hundreds and hundreds of people on a hollywood street waiting to see me and jay leno was there to speak on my behalf and larry king and my family and friends from around the country flew in.
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we got a luncheon afterwards. i'm still trying to process all the love coming at me on that particular day. that was just me. you're hosting "good morning america" so millions of people are ch wag you, we're all following your story. tuning in everyday, waiting for you to come back, what must it feel like when you got that much love coming at you? >> i'm telling you. my family said this to me, when i went through breast cancer in 2007. people were very kind and great. i kept them at arm's length. i shared with them. this time, i allowed myself -- you have to allow yourself to be loved. i'm glad you were able to take in that moment on the walk of fame and see your friends and see all these people and appreciate it. and that's something that i have really learned to do. and there's so many people who have read this book and said, boy, there's so many different lessons here. it's also a lesson on friendship. how to be a friend, on both sides.
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how to accept friendship and to extend friendship. i think it's something that is -- i know has faith, family and friends have really carried me through the most difficult times in my life. >> yeah. give me some sense of what this has done for your world view? >> oh, boy. i am not one of those -- this is the best thing that ever happened to me. i would have loved to learn the lessons that i have learned another way. not this painful way, but this is the way he wanted me to learn certain lessons. you've known me a long time. i think the person i am has not changed at all. it's been brought out a little bit more. i feel -- i take in more of the moments now. i feel a depth to me that i haven't before. it's hard to explain. it's not like i -- my sister when i got out of the hospital was in it for 30 days and much isolation and we're in the car riding home. she's like, are you looking at the trees. and you do kind of look at things just a little bit differently. and the level of appreciation
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that i have, even though i had it before, again, i want to stress that. you don't have to have something like this happen. you shouldn't have something like this happen. but do i want to be the same person? you go through something like that, do we all go through what we go through to be the exact same? but i think the core of us, those values that we learned, my momma saying, you know right from wrong when i was leaving the house. those kind of things stay with you but it just heightens. >> i don't know you well enough to describe in my own words your work/life balance, what but has this done to the extent that it has? how has that impacted your work/life balance? >> oh, boy. it was a good lesson for me because it was -- there was no balance there to begin with. it was all about work. and i wouldn't allow people to travel with me. amber is here with me on this trip. she never -- my girlfriend. she never would have gone with me on a trip because i would have been -- oh, no, i have to
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see tavis. i'm doing this and doing that. and i don't have time. and i want her here. i want to spend time with friends. i want to have -- and believe me, let me stress, i get it. i'm very blessed. i was out of work for six months. i was on medical leave for six months and had a good job to come back to. there are a lot of people who go through these kind of things. so i don't want to come across and someone say, yeah, sure, it's easy for you. but for all of us, we have to just take stock what is most important for us and find a way to make it work for us. >> yeah. >> how do you process death now? >> i'm telling you, funny because i just had a dream the other night about momma. it was a deep dream. i know i scare friends sometimes when i say this, i'm at peace. i'm at peace. not in a way -- i mean, i'm going to leave here like
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everybody else. >> kicking and screaming. >> that's right. don't think i'm going to give up. i'm going to go out kicking and screaming. but when you are -- there was a time that i -- oh, boy. when i was in the hospital and hallucinating and just in a really bad state that i would -- i can't say i thought i was going to die, but i can say i wanted to i was in so much pain and discomfort. and i just -- when we all get to heaven what a day of rejoicing that will be. i don't want to get there any sooner than anybody else does, but knowing my mother and father and just what i've gone through, but i also want to say to people, thank you for the prayers. thank you for wanting me to still be here with you. and there's not a day that's gone by that someone hasn't come up to me. i was working out in the gym before coming here and a woman, young woman, who was an
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attendant there shared the story how she lost her mother and father and became very emotional and said how much she prayed for me. hugged me and said i was so glad i was still here. i am, too. >> yeah. dr. king once famously said -- and i love this -- that each of us should do our work so well that the dead, the living or the unborn couldn't do it any better. that's a high standard. >> you are awfully good at what you do in the morning. it's a wonderful team. the data bare this out, to a great extent, your being there as a part of this team, that's driven this show to number one in the mornings and kept the ratings there for quite some time. i raise that only because i wonder if you approach your work any different, if you approach your interviews any different, i'm just trying to get a sense of what robin is like in the chair now? >> i feel more sensitivity toward the person i'm speaking
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with. and i give them the benefit of the doubt more. meaning, if they -- i realize that i don't know what their going through. >> everybody's got something. >> exactly. if i think, why is this person acting like this. usually -- in past i would hold it against them not in the interview but -- now like i kind of realize that i don't know what their day has been like. but i do feel more compassion than i ever have. i do feel, again, that i'm not the same that i was. nor do i want to be. and i am really grateful that people watch us and continue to make us number one. it's not -- the cast members change. i've lost some great colleagues and they're off doing things that speak to their heart, but one thing that hasn't changed is the people watching us. i'm eternally grateful. it's something that people in
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certain areas -- they feel like you're a part of the family. it's an honor. >> you set the frame and tone for their day oftentimes. >> charlie gibson once said to me, someone i work with, i get to say good morning, america. you get to look out and say to america, hope you have a good day. i'm going to do my part to make it a good day. i get chills still. >> it's a good thing. >> it's a great thing. >> given what you've gone through, it's minuscule and irrelevant compared to that yet it's a huge societal conversation because you've covered sports and you're an athlete. >> we're in l.a. >> back to your momma's eatic that everybody's got something, but what do you say to donald sterling? >> wow. >> disappointed. anyone who makes those statements, you shake your head and you go, 2014. especially if it's coming from
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someone in part who makes their livelihood from african-americans. coaches, their bottom line is determined by how well they do for you. i just -- i can't -- because one thing that mom taught me is why don't we focus more on what we have in common than not? and i am eager, like everybody else, to see how the league will respond, what kind of actions they will take. my heart really goes out to the players. that is -- they're trying to play for a championship. this is what they want to do. and to be pulled and for the focus not to be on the court but off the court. bottom line, anyone that would say those kind of things, it hurts. it hurts. and you're just disappointed that in this time and day
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someone would still have those feelings. >> i can't tell you how pleased i am to see you -- when i say that i mean, i'm really pleased to see you because you're still here and still doing such wonderful work. >> thanks, tavis. >> such a wonderful witness. her name, robin roberts. you know that, her book, "everybody's got something" that's what her momma told her. she makes all of us prod on "gma" robin roberts, good to have you on here. >> any time. >> that's our show for tonight. thanks for watching. as always, keep the faith. >> uh-huh. ♪ >> announcer: for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. i'm tavis smiley, join me next time for a conversation with fathers and sons with comic legend, carl reiner and director rob reiner. that's next time. we'll see you then.
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♪ >> announcer: and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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