"Not good news for you."
Those five jarring words are stuck in Hoda Kotb's memory from a February 2007 phone call with a doctor informing her that she had breast cancer.
"I think I just blacked out for the rest of it," the Today co-anchor shared with E! News in an exclusive interview. "But it hit me like a hammer. I was shocked. We've done a million stories on people who said, ‘I didn't think it would be me' and that's how I felt."
For Hoda, she was healthy, had no family history and was only 43 years old. But close to 15 years after her battle with cancer, the journalist is looking back on her journey and sharing what she wish she knew the day a difficult diagnosis changed everything.
"I was just scared I was gonna die," Hoda, now 58, said. "In hindsight, I wish that I had gone earlier to get checked. But in that moment, I wasn't thinking about that. I was just thinking about living."
That's exactly what she's doing after a mastectomy and treatment plan allowed Hoda to earn the title of cancer survivor. In fact, she's living by a new set of words: You can't scare me.
"I feel like the world is out there for me and the best years are ahead for me," she said. "The gift of being fearless is amazing because it lets you live. If you're afraid, you're not living. If you're afraid, you're sheltered. If you're afraid, you're staying inside. If you're afraid, you're not meeting somebody. But once you're fearless, you get the whole world."
While October and Breast Cancer Awareness Month brings up a wide variety of emotions for Hoda, she welcomes the opportunity to educate women and let them know they are not alone.
She urges followers to put themselves first and get screened for breast cancer. The former Dateline correspondent also likes to spread the message that a difficult diagnosis or message from a doctor doesn't have to last forever.
"My best years of my life were all post cancer," she said. "All the best years happened after that. That was not the end by any stretch. That was the beginning."
And perhaps the cliche that everything happens for a reason really is true for Hoda. Her journey allowed the anchor to grow her family with two daughters she can't imagine life without. And although her health battles made her unable to carry children of her own, Hoda said, "God put them in my life at the perfect time."
"I want my kids to know resilience is something that we are about," she said. "We look on the sunny side of the street. We look for what's right, not for what's wrong."
And while Haley Joy and Hope don't even know that Mom was sick, one day they will discover just how brave she was.
"I'll probably just let them know about it because we get stronger in the broken places and I hope they know that," she said. "They were out there waiting for me. I had to get through that horrible journey first. But they were waiting for me and I was waiting for them and we came together just when we were supposed to."
Today airs weekdays at 7 am on NBC.
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