Overcoming Breast Cancer
- TODAY host Hoda Kotb, 57, 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).
- Kotb recently recalled being “horrified” by her cancer surgery scars. But now he’s come to accept her body and many people have joined the chorus of support for her body positivity.
- 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.
In a recent TODAY with Hoda & Jenna episode, Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager, 40, discussed actress (and mom-of-three) Hilary Duff’s gorgeous nude cover for Women’s Health. In doing so, Kotb opened up about struggling to accept her own body after a double mastectomy to treat her breast cancer in 2007.Read More
“You don’t realize how long the journey is,” she told her co-host of three years, Hager. “I remember really clearly, after my cancer surgery—I did a surgery where it was a mastectomy, but they also did a hip-to-hip incision to do some moving things around.”
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Kotb recalled the horror she felt after she had to “get washed” following her procedure.
“I hadn’t seen (the scarring), because I just hadn’t looked at it,” she said. “A nurse came in to help me and she stood me in front of the mirror, and I was horrified.
“You know when you look and you’re like, ‘That’s me now? This is the body for the rest of my life that is going to carry me through?… You don’t see it as, ‘The cancer’s gone’ — in that moment, you just see the scar only and you don’t think that you’ll ever feel good about yourself because you’re always going to be hiding.”
But after help from those she was closest with, Kotb learned to accept and appreciate her body.
“Now I look at my scars and I’m happy,” Kotb said.
And fans and friends have been so supportive of her owning her beautiful, cancer-surviving body. In a recent comment on an Instagram post from TODAY, fellow breast cancer survivor and four-time Olympic high jumper Chaunté Lowe wrote some words of encouragement.
“Thank you for being so open with your story! Love you to pieces!!!!❤️” she wrote.
TV presenter Kathie Lee Gifford, 68, also took the time to support her friend’s honesty about body positivity.
“You are, and always have been, simply beautiful. I love you,” she wrote.
And many other lovely comments followed, like this one from Robin Vining Darst (@robinrtinsley): “Scars just mean you are stronger than what tried to beat you!! #9yearscancerfree”; and this one from Deidre Ferenc (@deidreferenc): “I just had a bilateral mastectomy 3 weeks ago. I am still getting used to what I see in the mirror, but reminding myself daily that everything happens for a reason and God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”
Needless to say, Kotb’s brave vulnerability has inspired friends, fans and other cancer warriors alike.
Hoda Kotb’s Breast Cancer Journey
Kotb received her breast cancer diagnosis in February 2007 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 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, 5, and Hope, 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.
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.