More than one month after undergoing a complex, seven-hour surgery to remove a brain tumor, Maria Menounos is opening up about the life-changing experience.
The former E! News host recently sat down with NBC’s Megyn Kelly in her first interview since exclusively revealing her brain tumor diagnosis to PEOPLE earlier this month. A preview of the Sunday Night with Megyn Kellysit-down aired Friday on the Today show.
“I think that this was a gift, because I needed to change my life,” says Menounos in the clip. “I needed to change the way I did everything.”
Menounos, 39, first began experiencing symptoms such as lightheadedness, headaches and slurred speech in February. An MRI revealed she had a golf-ball-size meningioma brain tumor that was pushing on her facial nerves. The news came as she was caring for her mother, Litsa, who has been battling stage 4 brain cancer since September.
Of her mother’s diagnosis, Menounos admits that hearing the news wasn’t easy.
“I hear ‘stage 4 brain cancer,’ I don’t think anything good is coming from that, that’s for sure,” she tells Kelly, 46. “They just said: ‘We need to operate and remove this tumor.’ ”
When she went to the doctor months later to address her own troubling symptoms, it hit her that she was experiencing the same things that her mother had gone through.
“At that point, when I said all those things out loud to [the doctor], the symptoms mirrored what my mom had,” she says. “And I realized it in that moment.”
Menounos says receiving her own diagnosis felt almost surreal.
“He said: ‘I’m so sorry I have to tell you this because I know you’re going through a lot with your mom, but you have a brain tumor. It’s called a meningioma. You need to schedule an appointment with a neurosurgeon right away,’ ” she recalled. “I started kind of chuckling. Because at this point it’s like: ‘This is a joke. Like, how does this happen?’ ”
The surgery — which took place on June 8, Menounos’ 39th birthday and was performed by renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Keith L. Black — successfully removed 99.9 percent of the tumor, which was benign. Menounous is on the way to recovery, but her mother has a tough road ahead.
“I just hope that we can make her one of the longterm survivors,” says Menounos, tearing up. “Because I’m worried about her. Nobody ever wants to lose their mom.”
Menounos previously revealed to PEOPLE that she only broke the news of her own diagnosis three days before her surgery, when Menounos and her fiancé Kevin Undergaro, 51, sat down with her parents, who are living with them at their home in Los Angeles.
“Deciding to tell [them] was the toughest part,” she admitted.
“We went into their room and I said, ‘We have something to tell you.’ Every time I say it, people say, ‘You’re pregnant!’ And it’s like, ‘No, it’s not a good thing,’ ” said Menounos, who has been undergoing IVF in hopes of starting a family. “I said, ‘I want you to understand that you have brain cancer, but not all tumors are cancerous. We found a tumor in me. We’re going to have surgery on Thursday.’ “
Both her mom and dad “just welled up,” Menounos recalled. “They were just in shock. But we kept reassuring them it would be fine.”
But Menounos said that she sees the experience as a “blessing” that brought her family closer and led her to re-evaluate her life.
“We’re caretakers as women and we put ourselves last,” she said. “I tell people all the time if your car is making a weird noise, you take it to the mechanic. How come when our body is making weird noises, we ignore it? I’m so lucky that I went to the doctor and raised the alarm.”
Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly airs Sundays (7 p.m. ET) on NBC.