Hoda Kotb's Inspirational New Book
We have all had a significant moment in our lives—a divorce, a job loss, or an illness—and don’t really know what’s ahead. In my experience, the scariest part of a life-changing event is the unknown. In Ten Years Later: Six People Who Faced Adversity and Transformed Their Lives, Jane Lorenzini and I tell the true stories of six individuals 10 years after their moments of significance. Each brave individual was able to overcome his or her personal misfortune. When you expect one of them to be sucking his thumb under the covers, instead you see a person who becomes triumphant. Ten Years Later shares this triumph of the human spirit and is ultimately a book about hope. When someone is in the weeds and scared, this is the kind of book that offers a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel and lifts people up.
When you feel buried, I think the only way to get out of that mind-set is to look across at somebody else and realize that they are going through something worse. I think to a story I heard about a young girl who lost the use of her legs in a car accident. After the accident, she wanted to be left alone in a private hospital room; she was miserable. The doctor finally insisted on putting her in a room with the other kids, and once there, a boy asked her to press a button across the room to call the nurse. She said that she couldn’t as she did not have the use of her legs, but after hearing that the other child had lost the use of both his legs and his arms, she hoisted herself up, got into a wheelchair, wheeled across the room, and pushed the button for him. That girl has grown up to be an advocate for people who have encountered terrible adversity.
The story has long served as a life lesson for me—when you are going through something horrible, realize that there is still someone who needs you. You could sit around and talk about how bad you have it in life or you can do something, and all the people in Ten Years Later did something. In telling each story, I discovered a common thread among them. Each individual overcame adversity, in part, by lending a hand to others in need, such as Lindsay Beck, who survived cancer and went on to found Fertile Hope, an organization that addresses and raises awareness of fertility issues of cancer patients and survivors.
I still vividly remember how it feels to get a breast cancer diagnosis, and I support breast cancer causes because it’s personal. One organization I feel strongly about is the Breast Cancer Research Foundation; it’s all about the research. We spend so much time figuring out how to get rid of breast cancer, and this group also researches why women are getting it in the first place, which I think is very important. I provide financial support for this organization and others but also give speeches at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and other hospitals. Women always thank me, but I often leave wanting to thank them. I feel their power, their resilience. It’s amazing how you can emotionally “fill up” through something like that, how someone you’ve never met can wrap her arms around you and suddenly you feel like you are overflowing.
I’m now five years out of breast cancer and, like those in the book, have found comfort in helping others. I became immersed in a smaller, local organization called Groove With Me. As a New Yorker I felt an instant connection to the philanthropy in Spanish Harlem that provides dance classes for young girls. The organization offers a sense of structure for the girls—they have a place to go and a purpose. I go to the recitals and watch the kids tap away and the families applaud. What I love about these girls is that they are trying so hard. You can feel it. They want to be someone, and it’s a beautiful thing to see.
An excerpt from Ten Years Later
Read how Lindsay Beck’s own battle with cancer led her to found her nonprofit, Fertile Hope.
“I remember that moment I felt numb. I felt like I was expected to cry or be upset, but really I felt shock and I was mad. My anger kicked in. The second time around in some ways is a lot harder, and in other ways a lot easier. Easier in that I felt like, Okay, I’ll go in tomorrow; we’ll knock out our plan. I knew the routine and the vernacular. But it was scarier in that the stakes were higher.” She pauses. “The survival rates aren’t as good if it comes back, and I wasn’t convinced I’d be able to keep my tongue. I never thought I would die the first time around, but the second time around, I wasn’t so sure. And I wasn’t so sure that if I survived, the quality of life would be one that I wanted.”
Lindsay’s surgery also included the removal of lymph nodes from her neck, where the cancer had spread. Approximately forty were taken out to be safe and would be tested for cancer. About a third of Lindsay’s tongue was removed, a wedge from the inside layer. She’s able to speak well today because the surface area of her tongue is not compromised; her tongue is simply thinner, which only slightly affects its mobility.
Lindsay met with an oncologist to discuss the chemo treatments that would begin in February. She was armed with a notebook full of questions and listened as he outlined the litany of side effects. She had written down Fertility? but never brought it up since the doctor didn’t include it in the list of potential side effects. She left the appointment but was bothered by her assumption that infertility was not a concern. Lindsay made a follow-up call to the doctor.
“And that’s when he said something to the effect of, ‘Yes, there’s up to a ninety percent chance you’ll be infertile.’ I remember hanging up, crying, and not knowing what to do. I thought, I’m not doing it. I’m not doing chemo.” Unless a patient is irradiated at the ovaries or the testicles, which Lindsay was not, radiation does not affect fertility. But chemotherapy is systemic, affecting the entire body, including reproductive organs. This was unacceptable to Lindsay. She’d always dreamed of having a family.
As spring moved into summer, Lindsay began to think. Ever since the realization that other cancer patients were not being informed about options to protect their fertility, she felt like she had a secret that needed to be shared.
She began researching whether it was standard practice to inform patients that infertility is a potential side effect of cancer treatment. The more Lindsay read and the more people she talked to, the more her concern was validated.
Fueled by all that she was learning, Lindsay dismissed other people’s suggestions to her to introduce Fertile Hope slowly. “Everyone was saying, ‘You should start small.’ And I thought, No way! If I do this only in New York, someone in Texas is getting sterilized! Someone in Chicago is getting sterilized! That was the biggest thing for me,” she says. “Once I uncovered the depth and breadth of the problem, every day it bothered me that people were being sterilized and they didn’t know it. Every day, right now, at every cancer center, they are being sterilized. And right down the hall is a sperm bank or a reproductive clinic, and they could be [freezing their eggs], but they don’t know.”
A key problem Lindsay identified early on was that the world of oncology and the world of fertility did not overlap. Not only did doctors in both fields never communicate, they didn’t see a need for it. Lindsay was a living example of why there indeed was a need; Lindsay and the more than 140,000 newly diagnosed cancer patients age zero to forty-five (still in their reproductive years) annually deserved to be informed about their fertility options. She went about the business of presenting Fertile Hope.
From Ten Years Later by Hoda Kotb. Copyright © 2013 by Hoda Kotb. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
photography by Michelle Walker (beck). by Kris Connor/getty images (kotb); Ron Holtz Photography (group)
Behind the scenes with Sigourney Weaver in her Gotham cover shoot.