#UNLEASHED: Maria Menounos | Tony Robbins
Maria Menounos Shares Never-Before-Revealed Details About Life After Her Brain-Tumor Diagnosis
"I was on top of everything. I would know when your birthday was and make sure you had your flowers. I was everything to everyone, but nothing to myself. I didn't know it at the time, but there was no self-compassion, no self-love. I didn't think I deserved it. I was too busy being, like, 'Shit! I've got to get to my five o'clock appointment, then my seven o'clock, then feed the dogs, and, oh my god, I've got to wake up and do this and this... ' I had become a machine.
"I started setting boundaries after my mom's diagnosis. One day I found myself telling her, 'Hold on, I can't talk right now. I've got to... ' Then I realized:I'm telling my mom, who has stage IV brain cancer, to hold on?! That's not okay.That's when I said, 'Things have to change. I'm going to spend time with her.' And I did. I no longer scheduled anything after 4 p.m. I would say, 'Mom, I'm going home, and we'll watchDancing with the Stars, eat dinner, and have fun.' I felt so happy, like, 'I'm not a machine—I'm a human!' But I'm also not perfect, so things would creep up and people would creep in. They want things and you feel guilty, so you do them. The universe took notice: 'I'm going to throw a bigger rock at your head now and really put a stop to this.'"
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"I hadn't had a primary-care physician in eight, nine years. Do you know how many times I postponed the MRI that found my tumor? At least three times! Just a few months after we found my mom's brain cancer, I started having similar symptoms: blurred vision, light-headedness, headaches. I was having trouble speaking. But my mom's tumor was growing, and I thought,I don't have time to deal with my own issue, whatever it is. We're so empathetic with everyone except ourselves. You see a sick person who's family, a friend, a colleague, and you say, 'How can I help you?' But if it's you, it's, 'I don't have time for you, illness!' My symptoms got so bad, though, that I had to deal with it.
"When I found out about my tumor, I didn't cry. I was told there was a good chance the tumor was benign, but to know for sure, I needed brain surgery. Dr. Keith Black, my neurosurgeon, called with two potential dates. I said, 'Well, June 8th is my birthday, and I'm thinking about this as a rebirth, so that's perfect!'
"The only time I cried was when I told people. I had tried IVF, so the first thing my parents and friends thought when I called with news was, 'You're pregnant!' I had to say, 'No, it's not good news.' The hardest part was telling my inner circle, people like Vin Diesel, Tony Robbins, Wilmer Valderrama. But they were wonderful. They told me how much I mean to them—things people usually say at your funeral, but I got to hear them while I am alive. Wilmer said, 'Maria, you're a mama bear. You take care of us. You never ask for anything.' I'm like, 'Are you talking about me?' I didn't even realize what or who I was, because I was so focused on work and trying to be perfect."
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"I didn't want to upset her. With any major brain surgery, there's always a chance something could go wrong. The surgery also, for me, had another level of risk, since I make my living on camera. Because of where the tumor was, it could have paralyzed my whole face; my eyes could have ended up cockeyed or no longer able to look up, down, around.
"The weekend before, I wrote letters to Keven and my parents. I gave them to my best friend and said, 'Pass these out when I'm under.' In my dad's, I wrote, 'Listen, if I come out the other side, I'm going to live a different life, and you may not be able to brag,Look at the amazing thing she's doing now!I don't have anything to prove anymore. I just want to live my life, and if it means making friendship bracelets in Africa, that's what I want to do. I hope you'll still be proud of me and love me for the person I'm going to become in this next journey, but I have to do it.'
"Thankfully, the surgery couldn't have gone better. The doctors said they removed 99.9 percent of the tumor. Dr. Black confirmed it was benign, and although this type of tumor sometimes regrows, he said, for me, there's at most a 6 to 7 percent chance it will return.
"After six days in the hospital, I came home. The love I got from people I've worked with and interviewed over the years was unreal. Then, with nothing to do but stay in bed, I had plenty of time to think. Like:Why do I work 20 hours a day? To have more... to pay more... to owe more? What is life about? What really matters? Going the extra mile and depleting my health for some boss who's never going to give a shit? Not worth it!
"After I had IVF egg-retrieval surgery [in 2019], I ripped out the IVs and went back to work almost immediately. My doctor cautioned against it; she said in 25 years, she'd seen only one other woman do it, and she was a firefighter. But I was like, 'No! I want to show my bosses I care! I want to show the younger hosts that you power through. Ratings are going up, we can't lose momentum!'
"Now I found myself thinking,I'm almost halfway through my life, if I'm lucky, and asking: When you look back, have you really lived? Have you enjoyed your life? Or were you on your phone the whole time?"
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"My recovery was going to take a while, and I felt like life was presenting a new path. I'm so excited to let go of the rope and, for the first time in my life, not have a million plans and just see what the universe has for me. I still have projects in play [her SiriusXM show,Conversations with Maria Menounos; AfterBuzz TV, the online entertainment network she co-founded with Keven; and partnerships with Pure Barre and Rally Health]. But they're all low, low maintenance. I do my radio show from my house! That said, I'm taking some time off to get well.
"What I've come to realize is that I really, really need my friends. Last month, my best friend and I were sitting on my living room floor playing gin rummy. I was about to have my first beer since the surgery, and I started to weep. It hit me: I'd lived in the house for 15 years, and I'd never spent time there with a girlfriend and just had a beer—not once. But that's changing. For instance, when friends call and ask, 'You want to have lunch?' I say, 'I'd love to!' They're like, 'Wait, whoareyou?'
"Keven's been my savior. He never left my side in the hospital. I was crying, 'I just want to get married! I want to have kids!' I've been pushing the wedding thing, but he said, 'Listen, I'm working on something.' For a minute, the type A came right back: 'You can't surprise me with a wedding! I need a dress!' But he said, 'You're on a need-to-know basis.' I think he really doesn't want me to stress.
Just weeks after her interview withWomen's Health,Maria would go on to tie the knot in a surprise ceremony in New York City's Times Square on New Year's Eve. Maria was co-hosting the NYE's broadcast on Fox with Steve Harvey when she revealed to her parents live on air that she and Keven would be getting hitched.
“I really truly believe that it’s taken us this long [to get married] because of the pressures of putting a wedding together,” Maria toldPeopleafterward. “I’ve always wanted it to be super intimate and even though this is the opposite, we can only invite our immediate family, so the pressure of who to invite is gone. This was just so perfect.”
Maria also toldTODAYthat she and Keven may also celebrate their wedding again in Greece in the future (she'd always dreamed of getting married in a church on a cliff there). Until then, she toldTODAY, "Every day, we'll wake up and he'll say, 'Hello, wife' and I'll say, 'Hello, husband.' It's like a nice love bomb hit us."
In the meantime, Maria is savoring life after her diagnosis. "Would you believe me if I told you that the brain tumor is the best thing that ever happened to me? It's freed me from all of that anxiety of having to be perfect. You can't control everything; leave it to God and just say, 'Okay, this is my journey.'"
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To be more in the moment, Maria turned to tech: She traded her smartphone for a Light Phone—at least when she goes out. The size of a credit card, it stores 10 phone numbers so you won't miss an important call from your partner, parents, or boss. "No texting, no emailing, no nothing," says Maria. Just emergencies. It helps with her mission to stop living online and be "much more present in life"—for instance, when she's having dinner with a friend and doesn't want to be interrupted.
Maria later toldTODAY: "I'm barely on social media other than what I have to post. I'm really trying to just be grateful every day for the blessing." She adds, "I was on a bullet train for 17 years like a maniac. Now, I tell type A women it isn't a race. In wanting our career goals to happen, we're compromising our health and happiness to work 20 hours a day."
She also toldTODAYshe's started keeping a journal to monitor her health and pain levels. "It's really important for women to keep track of things that are happening. If you keep a journal, when you visit your primary care physician you can see what's regularly occurring."
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Women's Health.
Video: The Crazy Life of Maria Menounos
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