In 2017, while her mother Litsa was battling stage four brain cancer, TV and radio host Maria Menounos found out that she also had a brain tumor.
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We spoke with Menounos in her Access Hollywood dressing room as part of our Stronger Women interview series just six months after the surgery to remove the benign meningioma the size of a golf ball.
How Did Menounos Discover She Had a Brain Tumor?
After feeling lightheaded and experiencing terrible headaches, blurred vision and speech issues, Menounos said she finally went into see her doctor for what she thought might be an ear infection.
“I went to the doctor,” Menounos explained. “And he said: 'Let’s do a full physical since you’re here.'” When I hear 'physical' I kind of cringe, but I went through with it.”
And it ended up being a smart decision to go through with it!
“If I hadn’t gone in for a physical, I would have never realized that I had a brain tumor and we would have never discovered it,” she said. “I hadn’t gone to see a primary care physician for a physical in at least 8, 9 or 10 years.”
According to Menounos, when our cars make noise, we take them to the mechanic, but when it comes to us and our own bodies making noise, we say, “Shhhh! I don’t have time for you! I’m busy! I have so many responsibilities!” We need to make that time for ourselves.
“My body was making noise for at least a couple of years,” she explained. “I kept telling people around me. People were saying, 'Maria, no one works harder than you — you’re just tired.' So I believed them.”
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What Is Her Important Health Advice?
Menounos told us about the message she wants to share: If something isn’t right, go to the doctor and get it checked.
“I think it’s really important to get this message out to women — and to people in general — that you have to focus on your health,” she said. “Why are we focusing so much on work and our careers and yet you can’t do any of it without your health?”
She has become a Rally Health Ambassador to help teach people the small steps they can take toward a healthier life, and she points out that getting your annual physical is one of them.
“What I love about Rally is that they incentivize people to take control of their health — they will pay you to get screened,” explained Menounos.
Getting screened for health issues that run in our families is incredibly important.
"When I heard 'You have a brain tumor,' I was like 'OK, I’ve been here before,'" she said. "My mom got diagnosed a couple of months ago, and I didn’t really learn my lesson 100% then, but really why are we running ourselves so ragged?"
Why Is This Message Especially Important to Women?
“Women are just so wired to be everything to everyone and nothing to themselves, and I was too,” explained Menounos. “It took its toll on me, and I don’t want people to have to learn the hard way.”
Menounos pointed out that women have become extreme in how much they take on and do.
“I look at J.Lo and she’s working so hard! And if she can do it, I can do it!’” she said. “I’ve pushed my body to the limits. And I don’t think I’m lesser because I don’t want to do as much. Focusing on my health overall is more important to me right now.”
Because she experienced such a serious wake up call about her own health, Menounos is telling women that taking the time to listen to our bodies and get check-ups needs to be non-negotiable. And she said the message is resonating. “Wherever I am,” Menounos explained, “Women are saying: 'I needed to hear this! I needed to hear it’s OK not to run myself ragged!'”
According to Menounos, a lot of women feel like they need an excuse to take care of their own health and wellness needs.
“I was talking to my cousin recently and she’s having all these different health issues and I said, 'Are you waiting for something horrible to happen to actually change your life? Or do you want to just learn from other examples like me?'”
It’s Essential to Get the Best Medical Opinion (and a Second Opinion!)
To illustrate the importance of researching your doctor's credentials and getting multiple medical opinions, she told us about a woman who contacted her recently through her radio show.
The woman told Menounos: “I’ve just found out I had a brain tumor because of your story and I’m so thankful and I’m going to have surgery.”
When Menounos asked, “Did you get a second opinion?” The woman said no.
Then she asked, “Do you know how many surgeries the doctor operating on you has performed?” The woman said no.
Menounos connected the woman to Stand Up to Cancer to get her another medical opinion. “Now they’re sparing her hearing nerve,” she said. “She’s 37 and they were going to take her hearing nerve! Because she reached out to me we were able to give her some good advice and get her to another doctor and now she’s going to be able to hear her children!”
She reminds us to remember that researching and making sure you have found the best, most qualified doctor is essential.
“You want the best mechanic to work on your car,” she explained. “Whatever the job is you want the best! Your health should be the same thing.”
What is Her Self-Care Routine?
Menounos said she meditates every day or almost every day.
She told us she loves the guided meditation called The Soul Sync. “It’s this woman and she guides you through the 16 minutes — rather than just having to sit there and try to keep clear thoughts which isn’t that easy for me,” she said. “She guides you and tells you what to do, and by the end she says 'OK, open your eyes.' And I’m like 'No, it feels too good!'”
Keeping stress to a minimum is her top priority.
“As rough as this year has been, I do see it as such a gift and such a blessing,” she explained. “I feel lucky that I’m healthy and they were able to get [the tumor] out. I’m leading this new life where I’m so much happier and calmer.”
Menounos ended 2017 by marrying Kevin Undergaro, her boyfriend of 20 years, in a surprise ceremony on live TV on New Year's Eve in New York City's Times Square. Their parents, including her mom Litsa, were standing by their sides.
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About the Author
JESS BARRON is VP & GM for LIVESTRONG.COM, a leading healthy lifestyle website with over 29 million unique monthly viewers. In addition to LIVESTRONG, her writing has appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune and MyDomaine. Jess has appeared on MSNBC and ABC News and has been a keynote speaker at Health Further and a panelist at Create & Cultivate and Digital Hollywood. Follow Jess on Instagram at @jessbeegood and Twitter too!