- ‘Today’ Anchor Hoda Kotb, 56, has faced massive rejection in her career; a battle with breast cancer; body positivity issues following an intense surgery and mastectomy, all while left with the inability to conceive following that battle. Yet she has worked hard to lift herself up, and encourages others to do the same before looking back one day with a broken heart.
- Kotb shares a powerful message from novelist Ann Lamott, reminding people to live their lives to the full extent. “What if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your novel or memoir written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because you’re thighs were too jiggly … or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life … It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”
- Dr. William Breitbart at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center reminds the SurvivorNet community to live life even when facing uncertainty. “You may not be able to control those [challenges] but you have control over how you choose to respond.”
“What if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your novel or memoir written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because you’re thighs were too jiggly and you had a nice, big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”
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The mom of Haley Joy, 4, and Hope Catherine, almost 2, is a prime example of a woman who can do it all … and she does. Kotb is also an example of a woman who has found love again. The Egyptian-American has been engaged to financier Joel Schiffman, whom she met at one of her book signings in 2013.
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Mass Rejection Early in Career
Hoda recalled the two dozen times she got rejected straight out of college while looking for a news job. In an interview with SiriusXM’s Savannah Guthrie, Kotb said she drove around state to state getting rejected in nearly every market in the southeast United States. But she kept going, and finally found her break into the business in Mississippi, when a man named Stan hired her.
“You’re not ready for Richmond.” “You’re not ready for Roanoke. “You’re not ready for Memphis,” Kotb heard over and over and over again as she drove around in a car (borrowed from mom) for ten days, sad and listening to James Taylor.
“You just need one person to love you. You don’t need everybody. Sometimes you think you need every person to think you’re good. You don’t! You just need one. And Stan was my one.”
Recovering from Breast Cancer
Just because Kotb is confident, energetic, and beautiful (with perfect TV hair) doesn’t mean that she has fully escaped her emotional and physical scars. The news host wrote about how she conquered her post-cancer body image—and still tries to—on Today.com’s “Love Your Selfie” series.
“When I think about surviving cancer and dealing with body image after the fact, I realize now: You can’t really prepare yourself for it, for how you are going to feel,” she wrote. “The breast cancer I had required an extensive eight hour surgery, which included a mastectomy and reconstruction. I had a hip-to-hip incision as well as more incisions on my chest. Let me tell you: it looks like a roadmap.”
Kotb goes over the two phases that many cancer patients can identify with post-surgery. “There’s the ‘OMG, they got it’ reaction and you are just so happy they got the cancer. You are so grateful, and you think, ‘I don’t care what my body looks like, I am just happy to be here.’ I still feel that deep in my soul every day. This is the body I have and I’ll take it.”
She continued with a dose of reality. “But I’d be lying if I didn’t say there is a second phase, a window of time where you don’t even want to look at yourself. It’s jarring. I remember a moment in the hospital when a nurse said she needed to help bathe me and I had to be standing up, in front of a mirror. I told her, ‘Please, just turn me around. I’d rather not see it.’”
Kotb chronicled how her body started to feel better once she started healing physically, and she considers herself at 90%, but said she’s still not fully there yet. “I am not at 100 percent. Don’t get me wrong: I am very grateful for everything I have,” she wrote. “But I still pull and tug on things I wear, like bathing suits or when I’m wearing gym clothes. The actual scars are there… that’s forever a part of me.
Then she added something quite interesting that her sister said after her surgery.
“My sister said that I immediately looked healthier. I think sometimes when you have something inside of you that’s poisonous and terrible, until it’s out you don’t realize you got the light back in your eyes, the color in your face. And really, you didn’t even realize it was gone. You were just walking around that way and didn’t know it.”
Accepting Yourself After Cancer
Whether you’re going through cancer or have never been faced with the disease, life is still uncertain. There are certainly many struggles that fighters and survivors go through, a lot of times worse than some others, but we all face the possibility that life can be gone before we know it.
“Every day of our lives is really filled with uncertainty – but those facing a cancer diagnosis tend to feel that uncertainty at a more extreme level.” Dr. William Breitbart, the chair of the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, tells SurvivorNet. Learning to embrace that uncertainty is a part of living … for everyone.
“What the task becomes is having the courage to live in the face of uncertainty, realizing that you cannot necessarily control the uncertainty in life … the suffering that occurs, challenges both good and bad,” Dr. Breitbart says. “You may not be able to control those but you have control over how you choose to respond.” In other words, keep fighting. Don’t postpone doing the things you want to do. There are many small things that you can do to “live” life every day, whether it’s watching a sunset, catching up with an old friend, splurging on a new bag, or watching a laugh-out-loud guilty pleasure show. You only live once.
And if you need some more inspiration, Hoda is there every day on the Today show, cheering you on.