UPDATED: August 28, 2008
PUBLISHED: August 28, 2008

Throughout her life, Robin Roberts has taken on challenges. A star athlete in high school and college, ESPN’s first black female anchor and, since 2005, co-anchor of Good Morning America, Roberts views adversity as essential for personal growth.

But last year a diagnosis of breast cancer blindsided her. “I never thought I could get through something like this, and I never thought it would happen to me,” Roberts tells SUCCESS.

Working through treatments, she knew viewers would see her during periods of weakness and hair loss. “But I saw it as a glorious opportunity to bring light.”

It wasn’t the first time viewers had seen her vulnerability. Hours after Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, Roberts and crew were on their way to her native Gulf Coast. Her mother, sister and two nieces had hunkered down at her mother’s house, and Roberts hadn’t been able to contact them.

Driving through downed power lines and rubble, they arrived to find no recognizable landmarks. A police officer had to guide them to her mother’s house, which was damaged but standing. As they opened the door to the darkened home, Roberts heard her sister’s voice first, just as the officer’s flashlight shone on the other familiar faces. Her family was safe.

Roberts wanted to stay in Mississippi to help rebuild. But her mother, Lucimarian Roberts, told her to return to New York: “Go and be the voice of the Gulf Coast.”

Reporting live minutes later, co-host Charlie Gibson asked, “Is your mom OK? Your sister?” The dam broke and Roberts choked back tears.

She later worried about being so emotional on air, but viewers were moved. They flooded ABC with calls asking how they could help. When Roberts got the breast cancer diagnosis, she again decided to “make my mess my message.” Viewers reached out, sending homemade gifts and messages of support. “I was humbled by the outpouring of love,” she says.

“We are all a little bit stronger than we think we are,” says Roberts, now finished with treatment. “Instead of seeing an obstacle as a wall put up in front of us, look at it as an opportunity to scale new heights and to climb that wall, to see and do things you didn’t think you were capable of. And that is my message: There are beautiful, new heights.”