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Hoda Kotb
Hoda Kotb: Hoda Kotb on love and life after breast cancer.
Pictured: (l-r) Jay Blumenkopf, Hoda Kotb, Kathie Lee Gifford -- "Today" show co-hosts Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford get a surprise visit from Hoda's boyfriend Jay for her birthday on the "Today" show. / Peter Kramer/NBC Universal, Inc.

Tackle adversity, Hoda style:

1. Surround yourself only with people who fill you up, get rid of the toxic ones.

2. Don’t sweat the little stuff, 90% of what you worry about won’t happen.

3. If you’re still standing after surviving an illness or the death of a loved one or whatever your cross to bear is, you get four words: You Can’t Scare Me. Use them.

4. Don’t hog your journey; share it to help others.

5. Allow yourself dark days to stay under the covers watching Law & Order reruns and eating junk food.


Recently, Hoda Kotb, the 47-year-old Today show’s fourth hour co-host, chatted with us about her recent battle with breast cancer. She’s on a mission, along with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, to share her journey so that her experience might help someone else who might be struggling. This is her story as told to reporter Gayle Jo Carter.

On Monday, your life’s perfect, then on Tuesday, it falls apart and you didn’t really see it happening. That’s how my breast cancer experience began: a routine doctor’s visit, which led to a mammogram, which led to a biopsy, and then a sprint from doctor to doctor who all agreed I needed a mastectomy. I went for the eight-hour surgery, which included reconstruction, because I like to climb one big mountain as opposed to ‘and then your next surgery is three weeks from now.’ When it was over I wanted it over: I didn’t want to think about it, talk about it or discuss it. I just wanted to go back to work and back to my life.

At the time, you think, ‘What could be worse than having cancer?’ and you think ‘nothing.’ But at that same time my husband wasn’t present and when I was sick, he left. Through it all I was thinking to myself, ‘I want it over. Get me out of this mess.’ So when Matt Lauer called two months after surgery and said if I was up to it, he wanted me to go on a ‘Where in the world is Matt Lauer’ trip. I thought ‘I was healed enough. I’ll do it.’

I had no idea when I went on that trip it was going to change my life. I was getting on the plane to come home and I was thinking, ‘I shouldn’t have traveled, I’m so wiped out.’ Then as I was about to put my headphones on, curl up and go to sleep and wake up in my life that wasn’t so great, my seatmate started peppering me with questions.

At first I was like, ‘Of all the people on the planet I have to sit next to, ‘Why this guy?’ but I didn’t know he was going to change my life as our conversation turned to my cancer. I told him, ‘I hope when you get off the plane you don’t say, ‘Oh, I sat next to a girl with breast cancer, I hope you have four or five other things you think of before that.’ He said, ‘Let me tell you something, breast cancer is part of you, it’s like going to college, or getting married or working at NBC.' This is where everything changed for me. He said: ‘don’t hog your journey; it’s not just for you. You can put your stuff deep in your pockets and take it to your grave or you can help somebody.’

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Our conversation made me realize you should hold on really tightly to the things you love and get rid of the things you don’t. ‘Hello, I’m divorced.’ It also motivated me to ask for the job I wanted. I went to Jeff Zucker [Today’s former executive producer] and said, ‘I have to tell you about the new me.’ They had seen me kind of in a box: I was ‘Dateline Hoda.’ I did serious stuff: It was the first time I ever asked for a job because I always felt like — and I think a lot of women feel this way — if I worked hard, they’ll see me, no way they can’t see me, meanwhile these guys are stringing themselves with Christmas lights and running into the boss’s office. It was a big step for me.

Look, getting sick and getting divorced in short order was probably the worst chapter of my life and I never would have imagined that the best chapter was right behind it. However, even through the worst of it, I didn’t think the world was crashing, I just thought it was a bad time. There’s a saying, ‘The way you spend your days is the way you spend your life.’ I thought about that on bad days. I remember thinking when I was going through a difficult time, ‘Just change one thing, it’s all about the little.’

The little changes started making me feel better. I played music in the mornings; I wrote in my journal; I surrounded myself with only people who fill me. Then suddenly you’re halfway up and you have confidence and you’re fearless because you almost lost everything. Then suddenly you’re going out with a guy — his daughters approached me at a book signing [Hoda: How I survived War Zones, Bad Hair, Cancer and Kathie Lee] with a written list of the ’10 reasons you have to go out with our dad’ — and you’re saying you love him. I do believe life is like that, on Monday it's great, on Tuesday it’s terrible and on Wednesday it’s great again.

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