Maria Menounos Reveals She Survived Pancreatic Cancer — with a Baby on the Way (Exclusive)

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“God granted me a miracle,” the mom-to-be and host of "Heal Squad" tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue

Amanda Friedman
Amanda Friedman

Maria Menounos recently put the kibosh on her plans for a baby shower ahead of the arrival of her and husband Keven Undergaro's baby girl, being born via surrogate this summer.

After years of trying to become parents, the pair couldn't be more excited to welcome the newcomer, but throwing a big party is low on their priority list these days. "This whole year has been trauma, stress, crisis," says Menounos. "There was a minute when we were planning something, and then it became too much. I thought, 'I just need to heal.' "

After nearly three months of recovery, the former E! News correspondent and host of "Heal Squad" podcast is opening up to PEOPLE in this week's issue about her secret battle with Stage 2 pancreatic cancer. Diagnosed in January, Menounos underwent a successful surgery to remove a 3.9-cm. tumor and is now on a mission to encourage others to seek answers to their health problems.

"I need people to know there are places they can go to catch things early," she says. "You can't let fear get in the way. I had that moment where I thought I was a goner—but I'm okay because I caught this early enough."

Courtesy Maria Menounos
Courtesy Maria Menounos

Related:Maria Menounos Gives Update on Surrogacy Journey: 'Just Keeps Not Working'

Menounos, 44, is no stranger to health battles, having been diagnosed and treated for a benign brain tumor back in 2017. But for the health-focused star who early last year was in the midst of celebrating the news that she'd soon be a mom, this recent debacle came as a major shock.

"I was feeling so good, and then I got slapped in the face with a new diagnosis," says Menounos, who began suffering from severe leg cramps last June. "I'd scream out loud, I was inconsolable."

A trip to the hospital revealed she had type 1 diabetes, which runs in her family. (Both her father Constantino's, and brother Peter are diabetic.) She was prescribed insulin, went on a strict diet, began monitoring her glucose levels and dramatically improved.

By October, "I was crushing it," says Menounos, who still takes insulin daily and wears a glucose monitor, "I felt so good. What else could go wrong?" But a month later she was back in the hospital, this time "with excruciating abdominal pain coupled with diarrhea."

A CT scan and extensive testing showed nothing. "They said, 'Everything's fine.' But I kept having pains," she says. On a flight several weeks later, the pain was so bad it felt "like someone was tearing my insides out."

Seeking answers she agreed to do a whole-body MRI with a company called Prenuvo. The test revealed a 3.9 cm. mass on her pancreas, with a subsequent biopsy confirming that it was a Stage 2 pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor, a form of cancer. "I'm like 'How in the freaking world can I have a brain tumor and pancreatic cancer?' " she says. "All I could think was that I have a baby coming."

Courtesy Maria Menounos
Courtesy Maria Menounos

Given the early stage at which she caught it, Menounos was given a good prognosis and on Feb. 16 she underwent surgery to remove the tumor along with part of her pancreas, her spleen, a large fibroid and 17 lymph nodes. "It was super painful," she says of the medical ordeal and her recuperation. "I couldn't move or lift myself up."

Thankfully, "Keven slept in the hospital every night," she says of her husband. "And my dad was the best caretaker." According to Menounos' doctor, UCLA's Dr. Ryan Aronin, and surgeon, UCLA's Dr. Timothy Donahue, the star is looking to be in good shape, and does not require chemotherapy or additional treatment, just annual scans for the next five years.

"I'm so grateful and so lucky," says Menounos, who is putting the finishing touches on her baby's nursery and excited to have a small meet-and-greet once she arrives. "God granted me a miracle. "I'm going to appreciate having her in my life so much more than I would have before this journey."

For more on Maria Menounos, pick up this week's issue on stands Friday.

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