Hoda Kotb was no stranger to bad news. For decades, she worked for CBS and NBC delivering hard-hitting stories to people across the United States. But when she received life-changing news about her own personal health, she wasn't about to sit in front of cameras and share it with the world — not at first, anyway. It wasn't until she heard a harmless comment on an airplane that she finally decided to do what she does best.
Hoda Kotb has covered everything from international conflicts to informal conversations and has earned her place as an American TV icon.
But there's one story the Today host hadn't talked about for some time: her own personal struggles.
Kotb's career started as a CBS News news assistant in 1986. Then, after anchoring some local news stations, she hit the big time, joining NBC News in 1998.
She was warm, welcoming, and engaging — but silent on some of the biggest struggles in her life.
In 2007, though, Kotb landed a more cheerful gig on Today. She was joined by Kathie Lee Gifford a year later, and the pair soon built up one of the most natural on-screen partnerships in morning TV.
Kotb would occasionally stand in for the show’s main anchors Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie, too.
And Kotb would eventually have the chance to work alongside Guthrie on a permanent basis. Following Lauer’s controversial departure from Today during the winter of 2017, the Egyptian-American was announced as his official replacement.
This was a history-maker, as it marked the first time that two women had taken both of the NBC show’s main anchor positions.
Fortunately, audiences seemed to love the duo. During their trial run together, Kotb and Guthrie helped Today to beat Good Morning America in the ratings for a month straight.
But behind the scenes, Kotb was dealing with her fair share of personal trauma. And in time, she would receive news that would completely turn her life upside down.
Up until that point, Kotb had seemingly been relatively healthy. She had been ambitious, too, ever since her college days.
While studying broadcast journalism at Virginia Tech, she had become a regular voice on college radio at WUVT. The same year Kotb graduated, she also landed a news position at CBS.
This position was based in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. Kotb’s parents had lived in the city before relocating to Oklahoma to continue their studies and then start a family.
The morning TV host would occasionally join her parents and two siblings on lengthy trips to their homeland.
Kotb would soon have further broadcasting roles in Florida, Illinois, and Mississippi for various ABC and CBS affiliates. Then she eventually relocated to New Orleans’ WWL-TV after securing an anchor-reporter position.
The broadcaster spent six years at the network before making the step up to the big leagues with NBC.
But while Kotb’s career has gone from strength to strength, her personal life has often experienced major setbacks. In 1986 she lost her father Abel to a cardiac arrest.
During a discussion in the documentary Dads on Today in 2020, Kotb revealed, “He taught us about hard work, like getting it done. And we all just believed that we can be anything and do anything.”
Kotb has also been a little unlucky in love over the years. In 2012 she announced live on TV that her new romance with lawyer Jay Blumenkopf was very much the real deal.
He didn’t seem to agree, though, as within a few months the legal hotshot decided to break up with the Today star.
This wasn’t the first time that Kotb had suffered relationship woes. In 2007 the news anchor began divorce proceedings against tennis coach Burzis Kanga — a little more than a year after they’d walked down the aisle.
The quick break-up came as a surprise to many, considering the pair were hardly strangers when they said “I do.”
Speaking to RadarOnline in 2018, Kanga claimed that circumstances had worked against the couple. “The divorce happened under difficult conditions,” he said. “Those were personal reasons for both of us.”
The tennis coach also accepted some personal responsibility, adding, “In hindsight, there was a level of immaturity on my part, mistakes I made. It was unfortunate we were married for a short time. It’s a shame it transpired that way.”
Yet Kanga doesn’t appear to harbor any ill feelings about Kotb. He gushed, “She is the epitome of class. I think the world of her. We had great memories together.”
For Kotb, on the other hand, the timing of the split couldn’t have been much worse. You see, during the same year she filed for divorce, the broadcaster received some devastating news about her health.
While everything in Kotb’s life was already turning on its head, a routine visit to her doctor suddenly turned into a frightening diagnosis.
She was sitting in her NBC office speaking to an intern when her doctor called with life-changing news.
Kotb wasn't expecting anything negative. In fact, she didn't even think of asking the intern to leave the room when the doctor called.
But in a matter of seconds, however, Kotb — now the host of a show called Your Total Health — lost her smile.
Her doctor diagnosed her with breast cancer. The news was so shocking that Kotb was speechless after hanging up.
And while the intern saw there was something wrong and decided to let herself out, that wasn't before offering Kotb a hug. It was exactly what she needed at the time.
Although she was going through a difficult time, the anchor decided to not tell anyone at work or any viewers at home about it.
She even continued to do her job at NBC while undergoing treatment — almost as though nothing was wrong. But that all changed after a chance encounter on an airplane.
Kotb was aboard a plane when the stranger sitting beside her asked about the compression sleeve she had on.
The journalist could have lied and said it was for muscle recovery, but she decided to reveal the true reason why she was wearing it.
Kotb explained to the man that the compression sleeve was helping her on her road to recovery from breast cancer.
She also added, "But I hope that’s not how you remember me." The stranger had a shocking reply.
"Having cancer is part of you," the man said. And his words really moved Kotb to take action.
"You can put your stuff deep in your pockets and take it to your grave, or you can help someone," he had added.
The man's words left such an impression on Kotb that she decided to do what she did every single day at work: start a conversation.
And the best way to do that, she thought, was to get the Today crew involved.
In groundbreaking television, Kotb let cameras follow her around as she battled hard against breast cancer.
Her recovery was daunting, but she demystified the process and let others get a peek at what to expect. Her fight with cancer wasn't her only struggle at the time, either.
Hoda Kotb decided the best way to fight the cancer was to get a double mastectomy. While the surgery was successful, Hoda confessed that she was "horrified" seeing her scars after the operation.
Luckily, with the help of some friends and loved ones, Hoda slowly started to change her relationship with her body and learn to love it, with scars and all.
As if the battle with cancer and a transformed body wasn't enough, while she was sick, Kotb was going through her divorce from Kanga.
Her resilience was incredible, and it wasn't long before her fans picked up on her physical and emotional strength.
Kotb's story resonated with and inspired plenty of folks. While opening up about yourself and being vulnerable can take great strength, it can also give a lot of strength to others.
It always helps to know you're not alone. Then, before long, Kotb made a long-awaited announcement.
The star finally announced to the world that she was cancer-free! But that wasn't the end of her story with the disease.
She loved being an advocate and a voice, and soon she was talking about it and attending a number of fundraisers. She was just getting started.
Kotb appeared at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation’s symposium and luncheon in New York City, where a record amount of almost $2.5 million was raised for the foundation.
There, she shared her true thoughts on her life-changing diagnosis.
"Cancer shaped me, but it did not define me," she said. "It's part of me but not all of me."
She made it clear that she wouldn't allow cancer to stop her from achieving her goals. Another part of her life was blossoming, too.
After beating breast cancer and joining Today as a regular host at the end of 2007, Kotb met and fell in love with Joel Schiffman, a New York financier.
They chose to not marry but stayed happy together. And a few years into the relationship, Kotb had a very important question for Schiffman.
"I would like to explore adoption with you," Kotb said. And while she said Schiffman could take as much time as he needed to answer, he immediately and happily agreed!
Kotb was ecstatic to start a new chapter. Cancer wasn't completely out of her life, mind you.
When her co-host Al Roker revealed that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, Kotb stepped in to let her buddy know he had a supporting cast.
Roker had been there for her during her recovery, and so Kotb posted on her Instagram, "We will be here for you too."
Kotb continues to share the good and the bad in the world — and in her life.
Through her journey with cancer, she became a symbol of strength and hope. But she has another Today host to thank for their support, too.
Katie Couric is America's favorite news anchor, as her warm presence and thoughtful commentary have charmed the country for decades.
She's always used her career to address health concerns in America. She hit the national spotlight once for an affliction, just like Kotb.
Her message started in 1989 when Couric wed her first husband, Jay Monahan. The young couple was overjoyed.
However, a happily-ever-after was not in the cards for these lovebirds. Soon, tragedy would strike.
In 1998, Doctors informed Monahan he had colon cancer.
The diagnosis was devastating — it came as a total shock — and he passed soon afterwards. Couric had just turned 40 and was already a widow.
After this, Couric knew she had to become an activist. Although she couldn't save her own husband, she thought, maybe she could save others.
Soon, in an effort to raise awareness, she did something that truly shocked the nation.
In 2000, only two years after her husband's passing, Couric went on live TV to have a colonoscopy performed on her.
Although the intimate procedure is something most people would prefer having done behind closed doors, Couric knew she had to get people's attention.
Amazingly, this high-profile stunt actually led to a noticeable increase in people having colonoscopies.
Dubbed "The Katie Couric Effect," this term is now used to describe the ability of celebrities to influence the public on matters of importance such as this.
However, Katie wasn't done with her activism.
In 2018, she accompanied Jimmy Kimmel on an episode of his show where he chronicled the process of receiving his first ever colonoscopy. Again, viewers were stunned.
More recently, Katie has been back at it again.
This time, her actions are truly turning heads, and for good reason: The woman will truly do anything it takes to spread awareness, even if it means revisiting an unpleasant topic.
Katie and her husband, John Molner, decided to get "his and hers" colonoscopies in order to stay healthy together.
Although it's a serious topic, Katie still had some comical remarks to share about the whole event.
In an Instagram post, the news anchor quipped that it was "so romantic" that the two had decided to get the procedure done together.
While the comment was sarcastic, it is romantic to care about your significant other's health that much.
Luckily, Katie was eager to report that her husband received a clean bill of health following the procedure.
The news anchor herself, on the other hand, had some more distressing news to share with the world.
Apparently the doctor located two polyps during Couric's examination — and no, not the sea anemone kind.
These abnormal tissues can ultimately develop into cancer if they go untreated. Katie had an interesting takeaway from this...
The fact that Couric actually did have potentially cancerous polyps only urges the importance of early detection and screening processes.
She noted that things could have turned out much worse had she not addressed the problem when she did.
Couric also left room to thank the hospital workers, nurses, and doctors who helped her.
She even joked that she was thankful for them doing their jobs "even if it means spending your days up to your elbows in...well, never mind."