Five years after cancer, an emotional Hoda thanks her doctors

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By Eun Kyung Kim

Five years after her surprise diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer, Hoda Kotb remains cancer-free. But the emotional roller coaster she experienced from living with the disease continues to linger, despite being living proof of the importance of early detection.

On TODAY Thursday with co-host and friend Kathie Lee Gifford by her side, Kotb got to personally thank the two doctors crucial to treating her cancer in 2007: Erin DuPree, the gynecologist who detected the mass in Kotb’s breast during a routine exam, and Freya Schnabel, the surgeon who performed her mastectomy.

“It’s been a long time since that, but when I look at you two, you rarely get to see someone who saved your life, so thanks,” said a visibly emotional Kotb.

Her story proves why it’s critical to be vigilant about cancer screening, said Schnabel, director of breast surgery at New York University’s Langone Medical Center.

“Early detection saves lives — that’s not even a question anymore — and allows people to have less obnoxious treatment,” she said.

DuPree recalled how, in 2007, she detected an unusual mass in Kotb’s breast during a routine medical appointment. The doctor said having a personal connection with her patient and knowing about her chaotic life also helped in getting an accurate diagnosis.

“Knowing that you have a whole lot going on in your life — women like that don’t always rush to get that mammogram and make that appointment right away,” said DuPree, chief medical officer at the Mount Sinai Medical Center. “And it’s one thing that can get put off, and it should never be put off.”

Freya said fear often prompts people to delay getting mammograms and similar medical tests.

“The big fear is always what will happen if they find something, and then I have to go down the rabbit hole and then it’s about the doctors and the medicine and the hospitals and the surgeries,” she said.

“There’s truth to that, but for the majority of women who go to get those mammograms and get those screening tests, when it turns out to be okay, the reassurance just takes away so much anxiety that that by itself is a tremendous positive.”

After Kotb learned about her diagnosis, she tracked her battle with the disease in a video log. Later that year, during October's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she spoke with Ann Curry to discuss her experience.

The most difficult part going into surgery, she said at the time, was knowing she would look and feel different about herself.

“Knowing that you’re not going to be the same as you were. Knowing that when you look in the mirror, you’re never going to be whole,” she said.

But ultimately, she said she has emerged from the experience with more strength.

“What I get from this whole horrible ordeal is, I get, you can’t scare me,” she said.

Watch Hoda's 2007 video here:


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