Jenna Bush Hager just wrapped up her first week as Hoda Kotb’s new sidekick during the fourth hour of the Today Show. Hager replaced Kathie Lee Gifford, who recently retired after 11 years starring on the show. Hager and Kotb spent Friday’s show discussing the value of female friendships and celebrating their own best friends who have been with them through the ups and downs of their life. Kotb’s longtime best friend, Karen Swensen, and Jenna’s gal pal, Ferrell Fields, were welcomed onto the show for an emotional segment, according to Today.
Kotb and Hager emphasized that a true friend is someone who is there for you not only for the happy times, but stands by your side through the challenges. Kotb met Swensen in 1994 while they were working at WWL-TV, a CBS affiliate in New Orleans. They quickly connected and found that they had a lot in common. Kotb didn’t know then how much of a rock Swensen would be for her later in life.
Kotb was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was in her early 40s. The diagnosis was, of course, shocking and devastating for the journalist whose career was continuing to prosper. Swensen did not allow Kotb to wallow in fear or self pity, but rather stood by her side throughout the ordeal and forced her to think positively of the future. Sure enough, Kotb would go on to beat her cancer.
“When I got sick with cancer, Karen was the one who was with me from the beginning. She just made it clear what our plan was. Like,’We’re gonna beat this, we’re gonna take care of it, and we’re gonna move on.”’
Just as Swensen had been there for her throughout one of the lowest points in her life, Kotb had the chance to return the favor last year. Swensen’s husband of 18 years, John Ronquillo, was dying of cancer. When the medical bills began to add up, Kotb offered financial help and constant moral support. Ronquillo died at only 64-years-old.
Hager and Fields have been through the good and bad together as well. The pair met when they were children at a summer camp and remained friends ever since. When Hager suffered devastating miscarriages, Fields stood by her side.
“She’s been there when I’ve gone through miscarriages and been there when I’ve had successful births. When I went into labor with Mila early, she called Henry a thousand times.”