Maria Menounos has become familiar with bright studio lights, but lately the longtime television personality has been resting under drab hospital fluorescents.
Menounos, 39, revealed in an exclusive interview with People magazine that she left her E! News job after undergoing surgery to remove a golf ball-sized brain tumor.
But it was the timing of her April diagnosis that sent shock waves through her family.
The family matriarch, Menounos’ mother Litsa, was diagnosed with stage IV brain cancer in September. Litsa Menounos’ tumor stretched deep into her brain as her daughter stepped in to help wrangle doctors appointments, the E! anchor told People in an emotional video interview.
As she cared for her mother, Menounos said, another dangerous medical issue started to take root in her own brain. She said she first thought the pressure on her skull was an ear infection. Then her speech began to slur on set.
Finally it clicked, she said, after so many appointments with her mother, sitting in as doctors analyzed MRI images and threw around medical terminology. “I know you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I feel like I have a brain tumor like my mom,” Menounos said she told her fiancé, Keven Undergaro, who had proposed about a year before the diagnosis.
Her instinct was correct: An MRI revealed a tumor knotted with thin, sensitive nerves on the right side of her brain.
There were options to consider. Keith Black, the neurosurgeon who had treated her mother, advised Menounos on the choice to blast the tumor with radiation, closely monitor it, or perform a risky operation to cleave it out of her skull.
“If you were my daughter, I would say surgery,” Menounos recounted Black telling her. When she began scheduling appointments, the nurses were confused that she had appointments of her own to make after helping her mother schedule checkups with Black.
The most difficult choice, Menounos said, was to break the news to her mother and father, who were drained from Litsa’s deteriorating condition. She downplayed the news by telling her parents that Black was confident the tumor was benign.
Doctors excised the mass in a seven-hour operation on June 8 — Menounos’ birthday — leaving a long scar behind her right ear.
Menounos, a self-professed fanatic of Sylvester Stallone movies, said she woke up from surgery in a daze, quoting a line from the film “Rocky Balboa.”
“It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward,” she said in what appears to be a home video filmed in a recovery room shortly after the procedure.
The Menounos family has a double cause for tempered celebration. Black removed 99.9 percent of Menounos’ tumor, and her mother’s cancer appears to be stable, People reported.
The younger Menounos is recovering and spending time with her mother after her resignation from E! Entertainment.
“Our thoughts and support go out to Maria and her family, and we wish them all the best knowing that Maria will tackle this with the same fierce dedication she is known for,” Adam Stotsky, the president of E! Entertainment, said in a statement. “We are grateful for Maria’s many contributions to E! over the past three years.”
Menounos has been in the co-anchor chair for E! News since 2015, after joining the network in 2014. A longtime actress and journalist, she interviewed then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 for “Access Hollywood.” Obama sat with his wife and two daughters in a rare television appearance for the entire family.
“I am so grateful for the past three years at E!, I had such an amazing time co-hosting with Jason Kennedy and working everyday with the wonderful roster of talent on the show including producers, staff and crew,” Menounos said in a statement released by the entertainment network.
She has not yet indicated what her next career move might be, but signaled to People that she is interested in helping families dealing with difficult and costly medical procedures.
Black warned Menounos her tumor has a 6 percent to 7 percent chance of returning.
“I’ll take those odds any day,” Menounos said.