It was almost a year ago, in December 2022, that Maria Menounos was given the terrifying diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. In the months since then, the TV and podcast host has undergone surgery to remove the tumor (as well as her spleen, a fibroid, and 17 lymph nodes) and become a passionate advocate working to raise awareness about the disease. It’s an important role, because pancreatic cancer can be tough to diagnose, according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN); both because the pancreas is located too deep in the abdomen for doctors to feel or see tumors, and because symptoms aren’t always obvious. Case in point: Menounos’ journey to a diagnosis, which involved months of doctors appointments and multiple missed signs.
Speaking with Hoda Kotb on a new episode of Kotb’s podcast, Making Space, Menounos remembered experiencing extreme bloating for months before her diagnosis. “For at least a year and a half or so, I looked like I swallowed a basketball,” she explained. She was tested for celiac disease and underwent an endoscopy and colonoscopy in March 2022, “trying to get to the root of what’s happening,” Menounos said, but doctors “didn’t find the source.”
“I kept taking pictures of [my bloating] because I was trying to eliminate things from [my] diet to see if there was a difference,” she went on. “I said, ‘something’s wrong, and I’m going to keep investigating until I find it.’”
In April 2022, Menounos released an episode of her own podcast, Heal Squad, in which she speculated that her pancreas might be the problem — a full eight months before she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. “[I said,] ‘I think something’s wrong with my pancreas,” which was followed by “a whole discussion about the pancreas,” Menounos recalled of the episode, calling her weirdly accurate prediction “so random.”
In June 2022, Menounos experienced another symptom of pancreatic cancer: new onset of diabetes. “First thing I [said] is, ‘I don’t have this,’” Menounos remembered. “At 43 years old or whatever … there’s no reason for me to get Type 1 diabetes.” Looking back, it was another missed sign by doctors. According to PanCAN, research has found that new onset of diabetes in people over 50 “may be an early symptom of pancreatic cancer.”
A few months later, in fall 2022, Menounos’ symptoms took a turn for the worse. The TV host began experiencing abdominal pain she’s previously called “excruciating,” as well as diarrhea. CT scans and stool and blood tests didn’t show anything amiss, but Menounos’ pain didn’t stop. Finally, a December 2022 MRI revealed a mass on her pancreas, which a biopsy later revealed to be a stage 2 pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor.
Menounos was lucky to have caught her cancer early, and to have had the resources to do so and get treatment. But even with those resources, Menounos’ doctors missed multiple symptoms over the course of the year. It makes her story a testament to the power of tenacity and self-advocacy in the doctor’s office, which is another reason why the E! News alum is determined to share her experience.
“Early detection, paying attention to your body and the signals it’s giving you” is the best thing you can do for your health, Menounos said earlier this month in a campaign for PanCAN. “I want people to understand that they have to be the CEO of their health, and that they have to pay attention.” For pancreatic cancer specifically, symptoms can include abdominal or back pain, unexplained weight loss, jaundice, loss of appetite, nausea, changes in stool, swelling of the pancreas (aka pancreatitis), and recent-onset diabetes, per PanCAN.
For cancer and other health issues, it’s about knowing what to look for and insisting that doctors take your concerns seriously. “You can’t just listen to somebody else tell you what’s happening in your body,” Menounos stressed. “If the pain persists … you have to keep fighting.”
Before you go, read about these celebrities who have spoken out about their autoimmune disorders: