When Maria Menounos was diagnosed with a brain tumor while caring for her mother, who had stage four brain cancer, Menounos had a surprising reaction.
“This was the greatest gift that was ever given to me,” said Menounos, a broadcaster, part-time professional wrestler and former contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.”
“When you’re an overachiever, you’re conditioned to just do, do, do, do,” Menounos told a gathering of women at UCHealth’s evrē women’s health and fitness event. “OK, I get it now. I need to slow down.”
Menounos, 39, had been on the professional fast track for years, most recently anchoring E! News and directing her own podcast network and lifestyle brand.
But on Sunday in Denver, she told an audience of women that her brain tumor served as a much-needed wakeup call.
“We are over-tapping ourselves. We are doing way too much. We’re trying to be everything to everyone and nothing to ourselves,” Menounos said.
Her message resonated perfectly at evrē, where scores of women spent Sunday morning enjoying yoga and fitness classes, attending learning sessions with doctors and getting free health screenings. The event at the Pepsi Center was designed by women for women after UCHealth surveyed more than 400 women earlier this year and used their responses to create the offerings that included UV facial scans, varicose vein screenings, massages and Pilates demos.
Menounos came to Denver to serve as one of evrē’s keynote speakers. Kim Christiansen of 9News moderated the keynote session that also included UCHealth’s Dr. Deborah Saint-Phard and patient, Kim Hess, who overcame a severely broken hand to later summit Mt. Everest.
Menounos’ health challenges began last September, when her mom learned she had stage four brain cancer. Menounos stepped in to help her dad care for her mom, while at the same time juggling her busy professional life. In February, she began to have some strange symptoms including headaches, dizziness and slurred speech. She assumed she was suffering from stress. But an MRI revealed she had a golf-ball sized tumor called a meningioma that was pushing on her facial nerves.
On Menounos’ birthday on June 8, doctors did a complex seven-hour procedure to remove the tumor and found that it was benign.
Menounos said the surgery and her recovery were humbling.
“I had to use a walker to walk for a very long time. I couldn’t shower by myself,” she said.
She faces a small chance that the tumor could return. But for now, Menounos is embracing a life of “being still.” She left her job at E! News in July and is consciously putting the brakes on new opportunities while enjoying fun times with her mom, like cuddling on the couch and watching “Dancing with the Stars.”
Menounos said she was typical of many women who feel they have to keep working constantly while ignoring costs to themselves.
“This machine of life has gotten so crazy and out-of-control. We can’t do it all and be perfect at everything. I had to be the perfect fiancé, the perfect daughter, the perfect employee. And, I’ve got to look perfect,” she said.
“We do at least five-to-one what a guy is doing. We have to take care of ourselves because no one else will,” Menounos said. “If your body is screaming at you…then surrender to it.”
One of Menounos’ key messages is to take time every day for some sort of mediation or stillness.
She said she tried sitting quietly, but didn’t like meditation per se. She found that she preferred being in nature and noticing the sounds around her, while consciously taking stock of her body. She now keeps a pain journal and urges other women to do the same. She’s also calling on all women to be compassionate toward themselves.
She urges women to picture their 5-year-old selves. A healer asked her to imagine the young Maria coping with so much stress: sick parents, sick dogs and an impossibly busy life.
“I would hug her,” Menounos said as she became very emotional. “You wouldn’t let her run ragged….Don’t wait until you get a brain tumor.”
She urges all women to assess the impact that chronic stress is having before it harms them.
“I needed to reset my life,” Menounos said. “I’m reassessing everything.”