One woman's powerful "bucket list"

April 28, 2008 1:19:15 PM PDT
A Durham cancer victim made her own "bucket list" and meeting GMA's Robin Roberts was on it.24 hours in Times Square. Steve and Donna McDaniel left Durham with two family members to spend one day in New York City! They did what most tourists do, took in the popular Broadway show "Wicked" and had a fancy dinner. But there was really just one reason for this trip. To make Donna's wish come true.

Donna's breast cancer returned for the third time in November. It's now in her bones. "There's no chemo, there's no cure." Donna tells me, shaking her head.

After seeing the preview for the movie "The Bucket List" where two cancer patients come up with a list of things to do before they kick the bucket, Donna thought it was a great idea and came up with a list of her own!

At the top, meeting Good Morning America's Robin Roberts. "I think she's a great role model," said Donna. "And when she had the breast cancer and didn't run and hide, I just said I've got to meet her."

For months, Donna's husband Steve McDaniel and her loved ones worked with ABC 11 special projects producer Mark Falgout to make it happen.

Finally the day came, Monday April 21st. In the early morning hours Donna, her family, ABC 11 photographer Bob Gaughran and I stood outside the stage door to Good Morning America's Times Square studios. What happened when we went through that door blew us all away.

Minutes after being escorted to a room to wait for the show to begin, Robin Roberts surprises Donna and meets all of us before her show.

When Donna saw Robin, her eyes lit up. Donna moved toward the statuesque television star with open arms softly crying out the sweetest hello. It was a precious embrace, almost as if these two strangers somehow were old friends.

Robin stayed a few minutes before leaving to anchor Good Morning America, but this amazing experience had only begun.

We got to go where few are allowed. Inside the Good Morning America studios. We watched the entire show. Donna chatted and took photographs with Robin, Diane Sawyer, and news reader Chris Cuomo between commercial breaks. She was even ON national television with weatherman Sam Champion during one of his weather segments.

Out of the many wonderful moments that morning there were two that are especially poignant.

Robin knew Donna was coming that day long before Donna did. So, in honor of Donna's visit, Robin planned a special gift, to take off her wig in front of America for good. Moments before Robin went on the air to do it, Donna gently rubbed Robin's head with the short, smooth layer of real hair and said encouragingly to Robin "You can do this!"

Robin kissed Donna's hand.. jokingly said "Gimme a little push" and she was on set.

Everyone in that studio watching was moved. After the show was over, Robin and Diane Sawyer walked with us back to the empty studio. Robin asked all of us if she and Donna could steal a few minutes by themselves. They walked to the edge of the studio by a beautiful glass window overlooking Times Square, sat on a sofa together and had a quiet conversation.

Donna's husband Steve stood in the doorway of the studio, his eyes glistening with emotion, watching his wife across the room.

"It's an answer to prayer, Steve said, "it really is. When people do this, especially folks who are celebrities, it just makes us all be human. Robin's willingness to give this time to her. Wow, what a treat."

Both Donna and Robin know what it's like to live with breast cancer. Both strong, courageous, refusing to let the disease take control. Robin was not afraid to take her national viewers on her journey through the rigors of treatment and now wearing her natural hair.

Donna is not afraid either. She's a coach for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training in the Triangle. She's currently coaching walkers who are raising money for research while training to take part in the San Diego Marathon. She's also active with her fellow breast cancer survivors in a group called "Bosom Buddies." Every June they take part in the Susan G. Koman Foundation's Race for a Cure. Donna is also a devoted wife, mother and grandmother. Both women, to me, an inspiration.

There were many hugs and words of thanks as the morning drew to a close. Right before Robin left the room for good, Donna and Robin gave eachother one last big hug. Robin said "I won't forget this day and you spending it with me." Donna said, "I won't either."

When Robin left the room, Donna stood beaming. "This has just blown me away. It's so much more than I expected."

What started out as something on a bucket list, turned out to be so much more. A lesson, not on dying, but a lesson on how to truly live. Barbara Gibbs, ABC 11 Eyewitness News.


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