Hoda Kotb Opens Up About How Her Breast-Cancer Diagnosis Changed Her Life

Hoda Kotb Breast Cancer Research Foundation New York - Getty - H 2017
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"Cancer shaped me, but it did not define me. It's part of me, but not all of me," said the TV host at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation’s symposium and luncheon in New York.

If it weren’t for her breast-cancer diagnosis, Hoda Kotb says she wouldn’t be the person she is today. The Today show host spoke at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation’s symposium and luncheon at the New York Hilton on Thursday.

Kotb revealed that she was sitting in her office at NBC speaking with an intern when she got a call about her diagnosis.

"I hung that phone up, and this intern was looking at me, and I hadn't said a word," she remembered. "And she said, 'Do you need me to leave?' And I said, 'You know what? Yeah. We'll reschedule.' And she said, 'Before I go, can I ask a favor?' And I said, 'Oh, sure.' And she said, 'Can I have a hug?' Can you imagine? Like the one thing I needed at that one moment came from this one kid who had no idea what I was going through. I think sometimes, like, God gives you what you want when you need it."

Kotb felt branded by her diagnosis and was scared to talk about it. "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."

Kotb said she had a life-changing moment on a plane after her surgery. The man sitting next to her struck up a conversation, asking about the compression sleeve she was wearing, which she was hesitant to reveal. She did not want this man to only remember her for her breast cancer, but he gave her some advice that she’s carried with her.

"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,' " she noted, adding, "He said, 'You could put your stuff deep in your pockets and take it to your grave, or you can help someone.' "

And when Kotb got off the plane, she took charge of her life. "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," the NBC host 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."

BCRF is the largest private funder of breast-cancer research. The event’s honorary co-chairs were Leonard A. Lauder, William P. Lauder, Kinga Lampert and Rita Wilson.

At the fundraiser, honorees Jeanne Sorensen Siegel and Herbert J. Siegel received the Sandra Taub Humanitarian Award for their philanthropy. Dr. Nancy D. Davidson, M.D., from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center received the Jill Rose Award for her research on epigenetic therapy and resistance to hormone therapies in breast cancer.

The symposium and awards luncheon broke a BCRF record by raising nearly $2.5 million for the foundation.