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Roberts honored for taking fight against cancer public

Robin Roberts has been in the public eye since she was a star basketball player at Southeastern Louisiana University, then a sportscaster for 15 years on ESPN, and for the past three years, a co-host of ABC News' "Good Morning America."

But nothing drew more attention from viewers than the day she had her head shaved. She did it because the chemotherapy she was receiving for breast cancer was causing her hair to fall out in clumps.

"There are many women who say, 'Take my breast, just don't take my hair,' " Roberts said Saturday before receiving the Gilda Radner Courage Award from Roswell Park Cancer Institute. "They'd rather lose their breast than their hair."

So Roberts took the issue head on, so to speak, and had her head shaved on television before all her hair fell out.

"That's the first thing you think about chemotherapy: My goodness, I'm going to lose my hair," she said. "I was one of those. I freaked out, and then I had my head shaved.

"It was empowering for me to look at it," she said, and then laughed. "I have a nice-shaped head."

She does indeed have a nice-shaped head, and more than 400 guests in Shea's Performing Arts Center got to see what she called her "chemo curls" as the main speaker at the sold-out white tie affair.

Roswell Park raised more than $250,000 from its All-Star Gala Night. For Roberts, it was the third cancer benefit in the past week. Earlier she was the headliner in Chicago and Omaha, Neb.

In between, she interviewed Barack Obama for ABC before he flew to Hawaii to visit his ailing grandmother.

Roberts credits another Radner award winner, the late ABC film critic Joel Siegel, with helping her discover her cancer in time.

She had just finished a tribute to Siegel in July 2007, and mentioned that one of the things Siegel had said was how different things might have been had he gotten a colonoscopy earlier. He died of colon cancer.

"He used his remaining years to be an advocate and tell people, don't wait," she said. "And that very night, I found the lump."

Roberts, despite being a public person, took some time before she decided that she would continue Siegel's work and be an advocate for regular testing.

"I was going to be fine," she said. "I had health care, a supportive family, friends, I wasn't going to lose my job. Many people who go through this don't have the benefit of that, so my mom was like, 'Be their voice.' "

"It's beatable, it's treatable, if it's found in the early stages," she said.

"I'm one of many who are just living, working with cancer and showing it's not the death sentence it once was," she said. "It doesn't have to be."

Roberts was with ESPN during the Buffalo Bills Super Bowl run, and said how strange it was to be back in Buffalo and not talk about the team.

"I mean to be here and not talk about the Bills this long in the interview?" she said. "The 5-1 Bills playing the Dolphins tomorrow?" She laughed. "Sorry, sorry."


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