Hoda Kotb: War, Cancer and Kathie Lee?

October 17, 2010 at 3:34 pm , by

Hoda photo credit julie dennisAre you a fan of Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb and their freewheeling fourth hour of the Today Show? I am. I became a Kathie Lee fan years ago, when she sat next to Regis and wasn’t afraid or embarrassed to talk about anything. My dad loved her, and when I moved in with my parents for a while in the ’90s to help take care of him while he was ill, the show became a cheerful morning ritual for Dad and me.

So I was happy when I heard in 2008 that this old friend was joining Today. But who was Hoda Kotb (right)? I didn’t know then. But I feel I know her now, thanks to her new book, Hoda: How I Survived War Zones, Bad Hair, Cancer and Kathie Lee.

The book is a fun read, with gripping tales of her travels around the world to cover stories for Dateline, from war-torn Baghdad to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And there’s plenty of entertaining inside scoop about getting to know Kathie Lee and finding their groove together for the show.

But the part that really got me was the raw, emotional recounting of what she calls “the bad year.” It was 2007, “the year my body and my heart broke at the same time,” as she describes it. She was 42, happily married, fit and healthy—or so she thought. “I had finally balanced my personal life and career, a real challenge for me up to that point.” She had always wanted kids. But in January of that year, she learned that her husband had been deceiving her—and that she had breast cancer.

It was a routine ob/gyn checkup, when her doctor felt a lump. She sent Kotb to have what was her first mammogram, then an ultrasound, which showed another lump, then a biopsy, which indicated cancer in both lumps. An MRI after that found a third lump. It was clear Kotb would need a mastectomy; they could not save her breast. All this on top of her marriage falling apart. How did she cope? “Thankfully, a weird internal game plan kicked in,” she wrote. “I guess in the name of survival, human beings must only be able to generate a finite amount of grief. Since I had two tragedies flooding my life at once, I instinctively split the raging sea of crap. This kept me from getting too depressed about one or the other.”

She says her sister Hala “swooped in like a mother hen to protect me the minute I was diagnosed,” and was with her throughout her surgery and recovery. While she got differing opinions from several oncologists about whether she needed chemotherapy or not, she ultimately decided just to take the drug Tamoxifen, which meant she’d never be able to have a baby. During all this sorrow, Kotb says it helped to keep extensive journals, both in writing and on video, and highly recommends journaling to anyone going though a hard time.

After her recovery, Kotb didn’t want to share the details of her illness with the public. She just wanted to move on. But a stranger on a plane changed her mind when he said, “Don’t hog your journey. It’s not just for you.” He suggested she think of how many people she could help. That moment changed her life. She said to herself, “I will not waste one more minute.”

And she has made a difference, traveling all over the country and delivering countless speeches to breast-cancer survivors. As a health editor, I attend a lot of functions, and I’ve seen Kotb not just at breast cancer awareness and fund-raising galas, but at events for women’s heart health and other causes. I’ve been lucky enough to be a guest on the show several times, too (a dream come true!), and it’s clear that she truly cares.

Hoda book cover

And today, post-divorce and cancer-free, she’s feeling strong and healthy. “Clearly, there are legions of women like me who’ve gone through what I have and are living stronger and better. But they don’t have a platform. Maybe I can be their humble representative. If someone is totally in the weeds, like I was, they can see there is a path out.”

To read a lively excerpt from the book about Hoda meeting Kathie Lee, click here.

Want to meet Hoda? For information on her book-signing locations and schedule, go here.

3 Responses to “Hoda Kotb: War, Cancer and Kathie Lee?”

  1. I love those fourth-hour ladies, but I didn’t think I would buy the book until I read your blog and the excerpt. I will be at Barnes and Noble for it tomorrow. Thanks for the heads-up.

  2. I think Hoda is very classy and bright and she’s not afraid to show it. I would love a signed copy of her new book.

  3. Love Hoda on the Today show. She has the best personality. So very out going and friendly. Would like to win her book.