Thriving As A Cancer Survivor
- Hoda Kotb is thriving as a breast cancer survivor. She says your 50s are the time in a woman’s life when you know exactly who you are.
- Kotb was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2007 at age 43 after doctors discovered lumps in her breast tissue during a routine exam. She then underwent a mastectomy and reconstruction followed by five years of taking the drug tamoxifen (Nolvadex).
- Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research, so there are many treatment options out there. Mammograms, a standard screening procedure for breast cancer, and self breast exams can save lives.
- Cancer will change your life, but we’ve seen survivors thrive time and time again. Ovarian cancer survivor Marecya Burton, for example, found her a new career she was passionate about after beating the disease. And breast cancer survivor Fernanda Savino told SurvivorNet that cancer brought her a new perspective on life.
Kotb, 57, recently spoke with her Today with Hoda and Jenna co-host, Jenna Bush Hager, 40, about what it’s like to be in your 50s.Read More
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Kotb continued on by promising Bush Hager that as good as it is right now, the best is still yet to come.
“Imagine where you are right now. You have confidence, you have a beautiful life that you guys have built,” Kotb said of Bush Hager and her husband. “It will get better and better, because you’ll know exactly who you are.”
Kotb then went on to discuss how desire and sexuality does not go away in your 50s despite the fact that feeling sexy doesn’t always come easy for her.
“I feel like we have confidence,” Kotb said to Bush Hager who said she wouldn’t describe herself as “sexy.” “Every woman knows this feeling at some point in her life where someone walks up to you and you know that they are smoldering for you. You may not know them well, but when they look at you, you know the feeling.
“You’re like, ‘Oh my God.’ In that moment, although you’re like, ‘Stop leering,’ you feel desire,” she said.
Hoda Kotb’s Breast Cancer Journey
Kotb is doing so well today, but she faced a battle with cancer not too long ago.
In February 2007, she was diagnosed with breast cancer after doctors discovered lumps in her breast tissue during a routine exam. She was 43 at the time and underwent a mastectomy and reconstruction followed by five years of taking the drug tamoxifen (Nolvadex).
“Cancer shaped me, but it did not define me. It’s part of me, but not all of me,” Kotb said at an annual Breast Cancer Research Foundation New York Symposium and Awards Luncheon in 2017.
She’s still cancer-free today, but Kotb has since opened up about her fertility struggles following her breast cancer battle.
“I remember that my oncologist called, and we were talking about freezing my eggs,” Kotb told Good Housekeeping. “She basically said that given my age and (my breast cancer treatment), it was pretty close to a dead-end.”
Her reaction was, understandably, filled with sorrow. And at that moment, she doubted she’d ever realize her dream of becoming a mother.
“I was in my room, and I just sobbed. I thought, ‘Well, that’s that, isn’t it?,’” Kotb said. “Like, you almost blame yourself. ‘Why didn’t I do this? Why didn’t I do that?’ So I just pushed it away because the reality seemed impossible to bear.
“How do you survive knowing you can’t have what you desire and what you feel like you actually physically need?”
But fast forward to today, and Kotb loves taking care of her two girls, Haley Joy, 5, and Hope Catherine, 3. She adopted Haley in 2017 and Hope two years later. And she thanks her now ex-fiancé, financier Joel Schiffman, 64, for providing the support she needed to become a mother.
“I don’t think I would’ve adopted if it hadn’t been for Joel,” she said of Schiffman. “Having a stable relationship in that moment was really important. Once that fell into place, it didn’t seem as scary to me.”
Understanding Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research. Many women develop breast cancer every year, but men can develop this cancer too – though it is more rare, in part, due to the simple fact that they have less breast tissue.
Screening for breast cancer is typically done via mammogram, which looks for lumps in the breast tissue and signs of cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
It’s also important to be on top of self breast exams. If you ever feel a lump in your breast, you should be vigilant and speak with your doctor right away. Voicing your concerns as soon as you have them can lead to earlier cancer detection which, in turn, can lead to better outcomes.
There are many treatment options for people with this disease, but treatment depends greatly on the specifics of each case. Identifying these specifics means looking into whether the cancerous cells have certain receptors. These receptors – the estrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor and the HER2 receptor – can help identify the unique features of the cancer and help personalize treatment.
“These receptors, I like to imagine them like little hands on the outside of the cell, they can grab hold of what we call ligands, and these ligands are essentially the hormones that may be circulating in the bloodstream that can then be pulled into this cancer cell and used as a fertilizer, as growth support for the cells,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet.
One example of a type of ligand that can stimulate a cancer cell is the hormone estrogen, hence why an estrogen receptor positive breast cancer will grow when stimulated by estrogen. For these cases, your doctor may offer treatment that specifically targets the estrogen receptor. But for HER2 positive breast cancers, therapies that uniquely target the HER2 receptor may be the most beneficial.
Thriving as a Survivor
A cancer diagnosis will change your life. But as we’ve seen in the case of Hoda Kotb, that change does not have to be bad.
Take Marecya Burton, for example. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at just 20 years old. Burton was a college student-athlete looking forward to graduation at the time, but all that had to change when she was forced to move home to start treatment.
“That was definitely challenging for me,” Burton said in a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “I was looking forward to graduating.”
She also had planned on pursuing a law degree after graduation – another dream she had to give up.
“I really had to, in a sense, put my life on hold,” she said. “Sometimes I look at where I am, and I can’t help but wonder, would I be further had I not had my diagnosis?”
But instead of law school, Burton found a new passion: teaching. She became a high school teacher in Baltimore, Maryland, and she’s since made peace with her new direction in life.
“I wouldn’t change my career for the world,” she says. “It’s so fulfilling.”
Other survivors, like Fernanda Savino, have said that cancer changed their whole perspective on life. Savino, for example, adopted a new way of thinking that’s allowed her to appreciate both her body and her relationships more than ever.
“I’m a lawyer, and I used to be such a workaholic,” Fernanda previously told SurvivorNet. “I would work for long hours, and I would never make room for doctor appointments or anything like that.
“I started to take care of my health and be more respectful to my body, to me. I started to exercise more.”
Like so many others, Fernanda also said she relied on a lot of support from her loved ones – something she’ll always be grateful for.
“I had all the support … my family, my friends, even the ones that weren’t so close, they always were present,” she said. “I don’t know how I would have gotten through all of this without them.”