Hoda Kotb Received The Most Devastating News, But How She Responded Proves She’s A Total Badass

As the popular co-anchor of NBC’s long-running morning TV show Today, Hoda Kotb is used to delivering tough news. But sadly the Egyptian-American broadcaster has also been on the receiving end of such news many times during her career. And in one spectacular case, she responded in a surprisingly badass way.

Kotb certainly had to pay her dues before landing the coveted Today co-anchor seat. She first started working for NBC on Dateline way back in the late 1990s, reporting on cataclysmic incidents across the globe. Among them were the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and the Southeast Asia tsunami.

In 2007 Kotb was appointed as the anchor of Today’s 10:00-11:00 a.m. slot. A year later she was joined by Kathie Lee Gifford, and the pair soon built up one of the most natural on-screen partnerships on morning TV. Kotb would occasionally stand in for the show’s main anchors Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie, too.

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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 the first occasion that two women had taken both of the NBC show’s two main anchor positions.

And American audiences appeared to respond well to this development. During their trial run together Kotb and Guthrie helped Today to beat the show’s fiercest rival, Good Morning America on ABC, in the ratings for a month straight.

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Kotb’s glittering news career began long before she joined NBC, of course. While studying broadcast journalism at Virginia Tech University in the mid-1980s, she became a regular voice on college radio at WUVT. And the same year that Kotb graduated, she also landed a news position at CBS.

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This position was based in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. Kotb’s parents had grown up in the city before moving 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.

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Kotb would soon have further broadcasting roles in the likes of Florida, Illinois and Mississippi for various ABC and CBS affiliates. 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 league with NBC.

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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.”

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Kotb has also been somewhat unlucky in love over the years. In 2012 she announced live on TV that her new liaison 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.

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This wasn’t the first time that Kotb had suffered relationship woes, either. 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.”

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Yes, Kotb and Kanga had been involved in a relationship for several years after first meeting at a charity event in the 1990s. Even the Today host’s relocation from New Orleans to New York couldn’t keep the pair apart. And in the summer of 2005 Kanga asked Kotb for her hand in marriage.

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Married life initially seemed to suit Kotb. While talking to New Orleans Living in 2006, the broadcaster gushed, “If I would have known it was this much fun, I probably would have done it a long time ago!” But things soon turned sour for the once-happy couple and within a year they were heading for the divorce courts.

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Speaking to RadarOnline in 2018, Kanga claimed that circumstances 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.”

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Yet Kanga doesn’t appear to harbor any ill feelings about tying the knot with Kotb. He couldn’t stop complimenting his ex-wife in the interview, going on to add, “I will always cherish our memories. She is the epitome of class. I think the world of her. We had great memories together.”

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But for Kotb, the timing of her and Kanga’s split couldn’t have been much worse. Because in the same year she filed for divorce, the broadcaster also received some devastating news about her health. Following a routine check-up, doctors discovered a lump in her breast. Kotb was later told that it was cancerous.

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During a 2017 segment on Megyn Kelly’s NBC talk show, Kotb recalled the moment she learned of her diagnosis. The star revealed, “As a confession, I really didn’t get a mammogram. I sort of found it accidentally when I went to the gynecologist, and it ended up being cancer. I worked a health show – I was actually telling people to get mammograms and I didn’t do it myself.”

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Thankfully still at stage one, Kotb’s condition was detected just in time. The news anchor was quickly booked in for an operation and then underwent reconstruction procedures. Within a year, the star was given the all-clear. Kotb went on to credit her choice of surgeon for helping to guide her through such a difficult time: New York’s Dr. Freya Schnabel.

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During the segment for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Kotb revealed that the health scare has now left her fearless. She told host Kelly, “I have to say, if you survive breast cancer or anything, you get four words. And those four words are: ‘You can’t scare me.’”

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“Because you have overcome that and once you realize after you come through the weeds on something as terrible as breast cancer and you’re still standing, every decision you make is easy,” Kotb continued. “The world snaps into focus.” The broadcaster also discussed her battle with the disease at a New York event for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation later that same year.

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During her candid speech at the event, Kotb admitted that she initially had little interest in becoming an advocate in the battle against the disease. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the star told the audience, “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.”

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But a conversation with a stranger on a plane ended up altering Kotb’s viewpoint entirely. After learning that the broadcaster was hesitant to discuss her battle, the man advised, “Don’t hog your journey, it’s not just for you. Think of how many people you could have helped on the plane ride home. You could put your stuff deep in your pockets and take it to your grave, or you can help someone.”

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This pep talk inspired Kotb to change her mindset about her illness. “Cancer shaped me, but it did not define me,” she explained. “It’s part of me, but not all of me.” Indeed, Kotb has been more than happy to discuss her experiences battling the disease ever since. In another example, she opened up again in aid of Breast Cancer Survivor Month in 2019.

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On this occasion, Kotb told Today viewers that the annual campaign doesn’t need to be all doom and gloom. She said, “There are so many positive things that are happening in the breast cancer space. And I was reminded this morning of what my boss said to me over here when I first told him about my diagnosis.”

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Continuing her story, Kotb recalled, “I was terrified and I hadn’t said it out loud to anyone at work. And I went up to David Corvo, and I said, ‘I just want you to know something.’ I said, ‘I have breast cancer,’ and I burst into tears.” Corvo then replied, “I just want you to know something. I know a lot of women with breast cancer and they all have one thing in common. They’re all still here.”

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Kotb then went on to inform temporary co-host Maria Shriver about how touched she was by Corvo’s supportive words. “For a lot of women who catch it early [survival] is the case,” she added. “And it kind of gave me hope and I remember going from scared to ‘Oh, okay!’”

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And Kotb would later channel her new-found positive attitude in a surprising way. At the relatively late age of 52, the broadcaster decided that it was time to have children. Thankfully, her partner Joel Schiffman was also on board with such a life-changing decision.

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In a 2019 interview with Know Your Value, Kotb recalled, “I told him, ‘If you need a minute to think about it’… But he said, ‘I don’t need a minute.’ When someone’s happiness is more important, that’s love. I found the guy.” Kotb met Schiffman at one of her own book signings in 2013, as she explained on chat show Bethenny several years later.

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“I didn’t even want to go,” Kotb admitted. “They asked me to sign some books and one guy is like, ‘Can you sign it to my grandma?’ And this guy walks up and he’s like, ‘I’ll take a book.’ And I was like, ‘Who do you want me to write it to – your girlfriend, your wife, your aunt?’ And he goes, ‘Write it to me.’”

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Schiffman and Kotb’s relationship became public knowledge two years later when they were pictured enjoying time at the beach. The latter had mentioned having a boyfriend on Today but had also chosen to keep his identity a secret. After word got out, Kotb told her show’s viewers, “I feel some relief. I talked to him this morning and he said, ‘Who cares? Who cares!’”

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And since then, Kotb hasn’t stopped sharing details of her life with Schiffman. On her self-titled SiriusXM show in 2016, the star revealed, “Joel and I are getting an apartment together, so we went to see it with the measuring tape. It’s a little weird to be in your 50s and we’re like, ‘Hey, we’re moving in!’ It’s like you’re kids. It’s so weird.”

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Then a year later Kotb disclosed that she and Schiffman had become adoptive parents to a baby girl. In a chat with People magazine, the news anchor revealed that she’d been rendered infertile following her cancer battle. “One of the things in my life I’ve always wanted was to be a mom,” Kotb admitted.

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Kotb initially thought her chance had been and gone. She added, “Sometimes in your life, things just don’t work out for whatever reason, so you say, ‘Well, I wasn’t meant to have that.’ But it was really hard to come to terms with it.” Thankfully for the broadcaster, her maternal ambitions were eventually realized in another way.

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In fact, Kotb became a mother for the second time in 2019 after adopting another girl. The Today host told Entertainment Tonight, “We like the idea of Haley [having] a sibling because she has had such interesting circumstances to grow up. So it would be nice to be able to share it with somebody.”

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And Kotb’s lust for life hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2020 she joined fellow host Savannah Guthrie on InStyle’s “Badass 50” poll of world-changing women. The broadcaster told the magazine, “I’ve done two badass things in my life – [my daughters] Haley and Hope. I’m in my 50s. Becoming a mom was a moment that I thought had passed for me, but I got to reach back in time and grab it.”

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But not everyone believes that Kotb’s later-in-life motherhood is something to be celebrated. In September 2020 the star revealed on Today that she’d received a letter that derided her decision to adopt two girls while in her 50s. Kotb told viewers, “I literally read it and I thought, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe someone put a stamp on it and sent it.’”

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Kotb admitted she’d been deeply upset by this cruel correspondence. She added, “I felt horrible in that moment because there is something that bothers you inside about that.” But in a heartwarming display of solidarity, her colleague Jenna Bush Hager quickly came to her defense.

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Hager said, “That stranger who took the time to write something so mean, she doesn’t even know what you’re like as a mother. She’s never seen you hold those little girls. That infuriates me. And I think why it’s so hard is that as parents we’re already questioning ourselves constantly.”

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Thankfully, Kotb has other things to keep her mind busy. As well as raising her two daughters, she also has a wedding to look forward to. Yes, in 2019 the news anchor revealed on Today that Schiffman had proposed to her and that she’d accepted. An excited Kotb then made sure that the cameras could see her engagement ring.

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Sadly, circumstances beyond Kotb and Schiffman’s control put paid to their fall 2020 plans. But the former revealed to Ellen DeGeneres that year that she still hopes to get hitched at her “favorite place on Earth.” And she’s also just as much in love with her partner as ever. Kotb told the host, “I picked the best person on Earth. I know it, a thousand times over.”

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