Maria Menounos knew the pain she was feeling wasn’t normal, yet she had to push for an additional full-body MRI to finally get diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Speaking to PEOPLE, the E! News alum opened up about her terrifying ordeal of battling cancer while expecting her first child via surrogacy. Her journey began last fall, when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which runs in her family, and later began experiencing “excruciating abdominal pain coupled with diarrhea.”
Menounos, 44, went to the doctor to run some tests. Everything came back clear, but the mom-to-be knew something wasn’t right. “I kept having [abdominal] pains,” she explained, adding that the pain was so severe, it felt like “someone was tearing my insides out.”
A friend suggested that Menounos look into a full-body MRI. She pursued the additional test based on this casual recommendation, and lo and behold, the scan revealed a cancerous tumor on her pancreas.
Her cancer was detected at Stage 2, so Menounos’s doctors recommended that she have surgery to remove the tumor from her pancreas. She underwent the procedure — which also included the removal of her spleen, a large fibroid, and 17 lymph nodes — in February. Luckily, she is now recovering and awaiting the birth of her baby girl with her husband, Keven Undergaro.
“I’m so grateful and so lucky,” she said. “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.”
What is pancreatic cancer?
As the name suggests, pancreatic cancer starts in the pancreas, a 6-inch organ that sits behind the stomach and products hormones that control blood-sugar levels.
There are two main types of pancreatic cancer: exocrine tumors, which account for 90 percent of cases, and neuroendocrine tumors, which are much rarer. (Menounos was diagnosed with the latter.) Common symptoms include jaundice, darkened urine, upper abdominal pain, middle back pain, bloating, and fatigue.
According to the American Cancer Society, pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3 percent of all cancers in the United States but 7 percent of all deaths from cancer. It also has the lowest five-year survival rate of all cancers.
This is in large part because patients usually aren’t diagnosed until the disease has progressed. Early-stage tumors often don’t show up on CT scans, as was the case for Menounos.
Getting diagnosed early might have saved Maria Menousnos’s life.
Menounos is lucky to have been diagnosed at an early stage, when her cancer was still very treatable. That’s why she has chosen to share her story and encourage other people experiencing similar symptoms to advocate for themselves.
“When you’re met with a potential death sentence, everything changes,” Menounos told PEOPLE. “I need people to know there are places they can go to catch things early. You can’t let fear get in the way.”
“I had that moment where I thought I was a goner — but I’m OK because I caught this early enough,” she added.
Her cancer diagnosis also comes just a few years after she had to have a large but benign brain mass removed.
“How in the freaking world can I have a brain tumor and pancreatic cancer?” the podcast host joked.
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