Hoda Kotb, Cancer, Kathie Lee: She's a Survivor

Hoda Kotb, breast cancer survivor, cohost of The Today Show
Getty/Stephen Lovekin
Hoda Kotb (Getty/Stephen Lovekin)

(CBS) Hoda Kotb, co-host of "The Today Show," has a message for women fighting breast cancer: "I know you feel like you're in hell now, but your life is about to get a whole lot better."

"Cancer survivors are blessed with two lives," she wrote in an essay for MSNBC. "There is your life before cancer, and your life after. I am here to tell you your second life is going to be so much better than the first."

If her words are any indication of how straight-forward she is in her just released memoir - "How I Survived War Zones, Bad Hair, Cancer and Kathie Lee," fans will be pleased.

Kotb got her breast cancer diagnosis in February 2007. She says she always ate well and exercised, and never imagined breast cancer was in the cards.

That may explain why the 43-year-old journalist, who also hosts an NBC show called "Your Total Health," never had a mammogram.

"I just didn't do it," she says. "I wasn't scared of it. I ask people all the time why they haven't gotten checked for various things, and here I was not getting screened," she told cancerconnect.com.

Around 200,000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.

Kotb's wake-up call came three years ago, after her gynecologist found lumps in her breast.

Kotb had a mastectomy and followed up with five years of tamoxifen - a breast cancer drug that's been around for 30 years. It blocks the activity of estrogen, which can fuel breast tumors.

It was then, she explained, that she shut down emotionally and intellectually. "I checked out," she told cancerconnect. "It was way too big."

Besides cancer, she was going through serious marital issues.

The healing process was difficult. She had to endure tamoxifen's side effects, which include night sweats. And then there was the emotional toll of hurting her chances to have children one day.

"Probably the hardest part about taking the pills is that they shut down your reproductive system," she said. "And I know every night when I take them that I'm contributing to that."

Still, she stayed focused on getting well. Her cancer now in remission, Kotb feels grateful. She says beating cancer forced her to take stock of her life and move toward the goals she had been too timid to focus on. One big example - her current position on The Today Show.

When she got back to work, one of the first things she did was to tell her bosses that she wanted the job.

"Before cancer, I don't think I had the confidence to fight for the position, but now here I am now, living my dream job with Kathie Lee every morning," she wrote for MSNBC.  "It's funny when I think how I owe my job, in part, to cancer."