Tragic Details About Hoda Kotb

There's something about the ever-optimistic Hoda Kotb that makes you want to lap up her infectious sense of humor. The "Today Show" co-anchor is at the pinnacle of her career and became a mother after adopting her daughters while in her 50s. Haley Joy and Hope Catherine's mom told Page Six that things only really came together for her at the age of 49. "For all the people who are late bloomers, hang in babe," she encouraged.

Kotb is intentional about her mental health. She told Chico's Inside Chic in 2016 that she deliberately begins each day with gratitude. "First thing in the morning, I try to scribble in a journal real quick, literally for 10 minutes or less. I write three things I'm grateful for and one great thing that happened in the last 24 hours," she said.  "The one great thing can be small, or it can be big, and I think that helps me right the ship." This ritual helps Kotb to "start thinking about the positive." She explained, "You start looking for the good things in the course of your day." Likewise, in an interview with Oprah Daily, the star dished that "joy comes from inside." She noted, "I think if you can find joy on the Wednesdays when you don't have something special happening, or some great event, that's the best."

Kotb knows what she's talking about, as she's faced many uphill battles in her life. Here's why she came out winning.

Hoda Kotb was bullied at school

Growing up is tough, especially when you're the middle child of immigrant parents. Although Hoda Kotb was born in Oklahoma, her parents emigrated from Egypt shortly after they got married. She faced challenges related to her cultural and ethnic heritage. She wrote in a piece for Today that she was the "trifecta of weird." Although she wanted to "fit in ... it wasn't easy" for her. "I had stop sign-sized glasses, frizzy hair, and a weird name so I was that girl," she explained. Kotb recalled, "I remember cringing during school attendance roll call ... They would stop at my name and go, 'We've got a typo.' I can physically feel the angst."

The other kids couldn't put Kotb into a stereotypical box, and that made matters worse for her. In 2016, she told The Wall Street Journal, "I wasn't black or white to the kids in school, yet I seemed to be both and neither, which made assimilation on the school bus and in the cafeteria particularly difficult." Per Today, she penned, "That was the stage of getting teased, being in the front of the bus and hearing people say mean things about you." Even though she was not popular at school, Kotb said her parents played a crucial role in her self-esteem. "Our parents were really believers in, 'Of course you can! You live in America, of course you can!' Here, anything is possible." And Kotb chased those dreams down.

She was devastated when her dad died

Hoda Kotb adored her father. Her admiration for the fossil engineer specialist was evident in an interview for the Apple+ documentary, "Dads." As a child, she knew her father could not be the president of the country because he was an immigrant, but she had dreams that he could be second-in-charge. She divulged on Today (via Oprah Daily), "I remember waking up believing that my dad was Vice President." Talk about a vivid imagination. She explained, "He taught us about hard work, like getting it done and we all just believed that we can be anything and do anything."

Imagine her sorrow, then, when she learned about Abdel Kader Kotb's death. She told Minnie Driver in her podcast, "Minnie Questions," that her brother arrived at college and said, "Come outside, I need to talk to you." She didn't want to and insisted that he tell her his news. She recalled, "He said, 'Dad had a heart attack, and he died.' It was like you couldn't even compute what was going on." Hoda revealed that she stayed at her brother Adel's place that night, "and I played James Taylor on the turntable over and over and over and over until we went home that morning." The loss of her father, which she described as "the worst thing in the world," also propelled her career. "Instead, when you don't have that 'attagirl,' you're like, I guess there's more of this mountain to climb," she mused.

Her college professor nearly crushed her dreams

Hoda Kotb was hell-bent on a career in TV journalism. While in college, student Kotb was well on her way to accomplishing her dreams when someone decided to interfere with her job goals. Kotb spoke to E! News for their series "E!'s Tales From the Top," and revealed how she was initially discouraged to pursue her life's ambition. "I actually had a college professor who basically said, 'Look, it's a very competitive field and I'm just gonna try to save you some heartache,'" she shared. The college professor continued, "'There's a lot of people there and I just don't know that you'd be one of the people who would make it in that industry,'" she recollected. Kotb added, "I remember it so vividly because it was like a knife in my heart."

However, the feedback actually spurred her on. "I used to play high school basketball, so I believed until the buzzer hit that you could win," Kotb explained. "I didn't really think of the odds. I just thought to myself, 'I really like this and I want to try it.'"  As she said at the Garden of Dreams Talent Show in 2015, "If you have a will and you love it, I think that's three-fourths of it. Talent doesn't win. Persistence wins. Perseverance wins." Wonder how many times that college professor has eaten their words after Kotb not only achieved her goals, but surpassed them?

Hoda Kotb's brother donated his entire summer salary to her because she was broke

Families keep you 100, and they also bail you out when you've hit a dead end. Hoda Kotb gave props to her younger brother, Adel Kotb, in her book, "Hoda: How I Survived War Zones, Bad Hair, Cancer, and Kathie Lee." There was a time when she wasn't doing so well financially, and her brother stepped up for her when she needed it the most. "When I got my first job out of college in Mississippi, I was flat broke. And I needed a car," she explained. It seems as if she had the typical woes of an unemployed college graduate and was struggling to get by. She continued, "Adel had worked all summer at a Church's Chicken, pocketing a total of $1,000. He saved every dime." At least someone in the family was making some cash, and putting it away for a rainy day.

However, Hoda had some pressing issues because she was penniless, and "the car dealer was demanding that I put money down. Adel gave me his entire summer salary to buy that car. Without hesitation, he wrote me a check." Her brother saw her dilemma and gave her everything he had. Hoda added, "He never said one word about it, either — there's none of that with him." The sibling bond is still evidently tight, as Adel frequently features in her Instagram feed at family gatherings or other special occasions.

She struggled with her body image

Hoda Kotb exclusively spoke to Prevention in 2017 and reflected on a difficult period in her life. About her weight, she revealed, "I struggled all through college. I started really putting on weight after my dad passed, and I just didn't realize it." She was the sporty type, explaining that she was an "athlete in high school" and was oblivious about how others saw her. She recalled, "I didn't know I was big until one of my bosses came up to me and said, 'Hey, Hoda, maybe you ought to get on the treadmill.'"

Kotb didn't take the boss seriously. She only realized it was a "thing" when she spoke to her sister. "My sister was saying, 'I really think you need to drop a few of these. I'm not trying to be mean, but chop, chop.'" She recalled, "I think I started crying. I'd been on TV for a few years, and I didn't really notice." Many years later, she wrote an article for Today's "Love Your Selfie" series about how she felt about her body post-cancer. "You are so grateful, and you think, 'I don't care what my body looks like, I am just happy to be here.' ... This is the body I have and I'll take it." Even though she was plagued with self-doubt in her youth, the TV anchor's perspective has changed. Now, Kotb appreciates her body. Period.

Hoda Kotb was rejected 27 times before finding a job

Hoda Kotb has made her mark as an anchor of NBC's "Today," as well as on the fourth hour of "Today," entitled "Hoda and Jenna." In a 2019 interview with The Cut, she noted, "I got into this business to be in news and I love that part of the business." However, she struggled to get anyone to take a chance on her. 

Kotb related the story of how she went on a 10-day road trip, resume in hand, and was rejected by the "whole southeastern United States of America," per LinkedIn. "After that, at the end of it, 27 news directors had rejected me to my face," she said. She was on her way home and driving through Mississippi when she saw a sign that said, "Greenville our eye is on you. CBS." "I said let me go in there, get rejected from Greenville, and get a map. That was my plan," Kotb explained. However, the news director, who was appointed the day before, viewed her audition tape and said, "I like what I see." She also pointed out, "27 people thought I was terrible, and one didn't." Today, Kotb has proven her mettle and is a popular anchor and respected journalist. Stan Sandroni may have given Kotb a chance to prove herself, but it was the journalist who pushed her way through 27 rejections to get her shot. Now that's determination. 

She fought breast cancer

In 2007, Hoda Kotb received some life-altering news — she had breast cancer. According to Cancer Connect, her gynecologist discovered the lumps in her breast at a routine check-up. She was only 43 years old at the time. She found a doctor that she connected with and found her options straightforward. Kotb recalled, "I think the good thing was I only really had one choice for treatment (surgery)." Although there was some debate around her having chemo, she came to her own conclusion. "I opted not to do chemo because it wasn't in my lymph nodes." Following the mastectomy, she had reconstructive surgery and a five-year medication plan. Hoda felt that "the healing from the surgery" was the hardest. She shared that after the operation, there was a "window of time where you don't even want to look at yourself," per Today

Like many celebs, she initially decided to hide her scary diagnosis. Per Cancer Connection, she said, "I was nervous initially because it's a really sensitive part of you." One day, on a flight with a stranger, she opened up after he asked her about a compression sleeve that she wore after her mastectomy. Kotb relayed the stranger's advice: "He said, 'Breast cancer is part of you; it's like working at NBC and getting married and going to college. Don't hog your journey; it's not just for you; think of how many people you could have helped on the way home.'" 

She divorced Burzis Kanga

Shakespeare wasn't kidding when he wrote, "When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions" in the tragedy of "Hamlet." Hoda Kotb experienced a double blow in 2007 when she made a shocking discovery. In the Minnie Driver podcast, "Minnie Questions," she revealed, "In this weird span of a week I found out that I needed a mastectomy, and at the same time I found out that the guy who I was married to was being unfaithful." Still reeling from her cancer diagnosis, Kotb asked, "'What is happening? What happened?' I didn't understand."

In an interview with Radar Online, tennis coach Burzis Kanga told his side of the story. "We had some differences," Kanga shared. "My father was ill. She was ill. It was a difficult time." After marrying Kotb in December 2005, he had also moved from New Orleans to New York, and that had put their marriage under stress. "I was not used to the big city, I guess," Kanga mused. He also said that "the divorce happened under difficult conditions." Kanga then confessed, "In hindsight, there was a level of immaturity on my part, mistakes I made." The tennis coach also regretted that they were "married for a short time. It's a shame it transpired that way." However, Kanga praised his ex-wife, saying, "I will always cherish our memories. She is the epitome of class. I think the world of her." As he should.

Hoda Kotb's cancer treatment left her unable to have kids

Hoda Kotb was dealt another blow after her breast cancer diagnosis. In People's "Me Becoming Mom" podcast, the TV host shared that she learned that the cancer treatments changed her life: She would never be able to conceive. The news would shock Kotb and she tried to cope with it for years by suppressing her yearning to have kids. "I was actually with a girlfriend and we were walking down a street and I remember it like it was yesterday," she recalled. "Because I had never shared it with anyone that I had wanted — I still yearned for [children] because it seemed like wanting to go to the moon, it's not happening, so don't even bring it up," she said. 

It seems as if her friend assumed that neither she nor her boyfriend at the time, Joel Schiffman, wanted kids. Suddenly, Kotb had an "epiphany" and decided to share her real feelings with her friend. "I looked at her and I said, 'Well, I do.' I didn't say did, I said I do." She was finally able to vocalize her desires, saying, "I was like, 'Oh my God, I do want to have children, right now. Here in my current state.'" Luckily, Schiffman agreed to adopt a child with her. Today, the couple co-parent two daughters together, Haley Joy and Hope Catherine, per People.

She was paid less than her male counterparts

While Hoda Kotb has overcome many obstacles, she seemingly did not win the pay gap battle that so many working women face. According to Page Six, Kotb landed Matt Lauer's spot on the "Today" show, but there was a big difference in their salaries. The outlet reported that Kotb would be earning approximately $18 million less per annum than Lauer got for the same job. A source told Page Six, "Hoda isn't complaining about the money. She has landed the big job she always dreamed of, and most definitely deserves." They also pointed out that Lauer's paycheck "reflected the long time he was on the show — 25 years." Apparently, Hoda could re-negotiate her pay during her contract renewal. They added, "But the figures underline the huge wage disparity at NBC News."

In 2021, Hoda Kotb spoke candidly to E! News about her experience as a woman in journalism. "I think I spent most of my career being paid less than my male counterpart, without question," she mused. Only in later years did she question her salary, stating, "I think I actually deserve this, or I can ask for this. I wish I didn't waste so many years either not paying attention." She revealed that "you should get paid what you're worth. Simple as that." While it hasn't been confirmed if she ever got a pay raise, we do know that Kotb deserves every cent she earns.

Hoda Kotb and Joel Schiffman ended their engagement

In January, Hoda Kotb shocked her fans when she announced that she and her fiancé, Joel Schiffman, had split after eight years together. The couple got engaged in November 2019, but thanks to COVID restrictions, they had to postpone their wedding. The anchor said, per Today, "Joel and I have had a lot of prayerful and really meaningful conversations over the holidays, and we decided that we're better as friends and parents than we are as an engaged couple." The split did indeed seem to be amicable, as they decided to "start this new year and begin it kind of on our new path as loving parents to our adorable, delightful children, and as friends." Her remark seemingly rings true, as she posted two pics on her Instagram New Year's Day. The first snap is of their two daughters, Haley and Hope, while the second shows Kotb and Schiffman toasting their glasses to the new year. Both of them were wearing festive hats and happy grins.

"It's not like something happened," Kotb explained, before adding that their relationship was only "meant to be there for a season." She praised Schiffman as a "great guy" and a "very kind and loving person." She noted, "I feel privileged to have spent eight years with him." Sources told Page Six that Kotb realized a marriage to Schiffman would not work. "We'll be good parents to those two lovely kids," Kotb concluded, per Today.