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How humor helped Maria Menounos and her mom cope after they were both diagnosed with brain tumors

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  • Maria Menounos
    Maria Menounos
    American actress, journalist, television host and professional wrestler

TV host Maria Menounos has always been close with her parents, whom she describes as “really hard workers.” As a teenager just starting her modeling career, Menounos says her mom “tirelessly” drove her to every audition. “My mom was just my champ,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “My mom knew I had a dream and she wanted to help me accomplish that dream. And so she did everything she could.”

But the family’s entire world was rocked when Menounos’ mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In August 2016, her mom called her. “She said, ‘I couldn’t speak today. My speech slurred and water that I was drinking came out of my mouth,’ Menounos recalls. “I figured she probably had a little stroke. My dad then called and told me they were air-lifting her to another hospital because they found a tumor.”

Her mom was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer, also known as glioblastoma — an aggressive, hard-to-treat cancer that can occur in the brain or spinal cord, according to the Mayo Clinic. “You just think the worst instantly,” says Menounos.

The 40-year-old, who hosts her own empowering podcast called “Conversations with Maria Menounos,” featuring everyone from successful women to celebrities, adds, “So after the crying and the screaming and the disbelief faded for a second, I started to realize I needed to quarterback her care.”

Menounos, along with her family, supported her mom as she went through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. “You never want to see someone you love suffer,” she says. “But I was just like, ‘Oh God, I wish you gave this to me ’cause I feel like I could fight this better.’”

Little did Menounos know that she also had a brain tumor. “The power of words, man,” she says.

Menounos noticed that she wasn’t feeling well, but chalked it up to being stressed trying to “work a million jobs” and take care of her mom at the same time.

She was having bad headaches, her sight was “getting weird” and she was slurring her speech, so she went to her doctor and said, “‘Oh my God, I know you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I think I have a brain tumor like my mom,’” she recalls.

Maria Menounos on coping with her mother’s and her own brain tumor. (Photo: Paul Archuleta via Getty Images)
Maria Menounos on coping with her mother’s and her own brain tumor. (Photo: Paul Archuleta via Getty Images)

A couple of weeks later, Menounos found out she did, in fact, have one. “My brain tumor is very different, thankfully, than my mom’s,” she says. “Mine is call a meningioma,” a tumor that forms in the membranes surrounding the brain (or spinal cord).

Less than a year after her own mother’s brain tumor diagnosis, Menounos had surgery in June 2018 to remove most of the tumor, which turned out to be benign. But the road to recovery wasn’t easy for Menounos. “The most humbling part of it was not being able to walk and not having your balance,” she says. “And I had to use a walker for a long time.”

But she decided to approach the difficult and scary situation with a sense of humor. “We always have a saying in our house: ‘Comedy must rule.’ And so I applied it even to my brain tumor, and I really believe that that helped me heal faster, rather than, ‘Ugh, God hates us.’ I actually thanked God for it because I knew that I needed to shift directions in my life.”

She adds: “To me, it was always a gift.”

Menounos and her mom are “doing great now.” After going through this ordeal, she believes the “power of a positive attitude” truly helped them both. “My mom has never really been anything but positive,” Menounos says. “I had a really great example in her.”

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