In 2017, ten years after her mastectomy and overcoming breast cancer, the TV host looked back and recognized the transcendence her diagnosis had in the rest of her life, and how a casual conversation changed it all.
54-year-old Hoda Kotb opened up about this at a Breast Cancer Research Foundation’s symposium in New York City, when she credited a stranger she met on a plane after her surgery with giving her the most valuable piece of advice.
Kotb recalled her meeting with a man that sat next to her on a flight, with the man getting curious about the compression sleeve she was wearing, and when he noticed she was hesitant to talk about her illness, he knew what he had to say.
"He said, 'Don't hog your journey, it's not just for you.' He said, 'Think of how many people you could have helped on the plane ride home. He said, 'You could put your stuff deep in your pockets and take it to your grave, or you can help someone.'"
-Hoda Kotb, The Hollywood Reporter, October 20, 2017.
This brief conversation changed the way Kotb had thought about her need to leave cancer behind, and it helped her take charge of her life once again, but instead of having a traumatic memory she assimilated it as part of her journey.
"I did not want to think about cancer. I wanted to have my surgery over, and I didn't want to discuss it. I didn't want to wear pink. I didn't want to know anything about pink. I was not interested in pink. I wanted it over," she explained.
But when she got off that plane, she was a different person, and her new, positive attitude, eventually paid off for her.
"When your body heals, you start to feel better. You realize that you don’t care about the scars. You are just happy to have this body, a healthy body, no matter the lumps and bumps and problems."
"Cancer shaped me, but it did not define me. It's part of me, but not all of me. It just goes to show you that in my early 40s, I was sick, I was getting divorced, and I was in a job that I wasn't suited for," Kotb said.
"I'm now 53 years old, I have a guy I love, a baby who is the light of my life. She’s so sweet! And [I have] a job that's pretty cool, too, so 53 is awesome," she added.
It was not an easy process, especially since her cancer treatment had left her infertile. In addition to it, she had to go through a divorce while battling with the disease, which involved the infidelity of her husband at that time.
But she focused on her health, on her career, and on sharing her experience with the world to raise awareness about the disease, something that she is still passionate about.
Before her talk at the BCRF event, she wrote an essay about her struggles with her body image after undergoing several surgical procedures, something that affects breast cancer patients in particular.
“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,’” she wrote.
“Then, when your body heals, you start to feel better. You realize that you don’t care about the scars. You are just happy to have this body, a healthy body, no matter the lumps and bumps and problems,” Kotb shared.
Little by little, she didn’t just come to terms with the way her body looked, but also with the fact that she was unable to conceive a child.
She gradually fell in love with the idea of adopting a child, and now she calls motherhood “ a gift,” one that not even cancer could take away from her.
"I wake up sometimes and go, 'Oh my God, I have a baby! But it feels totally real. I guess if you've been waiting this long for something, and you wish for it, pray for it, hope for it, wonder if it will ever be, and then it happens, nothing's more real. Nothing," she told People.
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