Why Maria Menounos Kept Her Brain Tumor a Secret from Her Parents Until Just Before Surgery

"If my mom was stable, it would have been easier," the talk show host tells PEOPLE exclusively

Watching her mom suffer from stage 4 brain cancer was devastating for Maria Menounos.

So when the TV and Sirius XM radio host (and sometime WWE wrestler) received her own diagnosis of a benign brain tumor this spring, she could not fathom having to break the news to her parents, Constantine and Litsa. “Deciding to tell [them] was the toughest part,” Menounos tells PEOPLE in this week’s exclusive cover story.

She continues, “If my mom was stable, it would have been easier. But because her tumor was growing [at the time], it was really depressing. It was awful because we were all living in this house and keeping this secret.”

  • For much more from Menounos, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE and watch her emotional interview in PEOPLE Cover Story: Maria Menounos on the People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to People.com/PEN or download the PEN app on your favorite mobile or connected TV device.

Three days before her surgery, Menounos, 39, and her fiancé Kevin Undergaro, 51, sat down with her parents, who are living with them at their home in Los Angeles. “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,’ ” says 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. They were just in shock,” Menounos adds. “But we kept reassuring them it would be fine.”

FROM PEN: Maria Menounos Was Diagnosed with a Brain Tumor While Her Mom Fights Stage 4 Brain Cancer

Now healing after her June 8 surgery, during which renowned neurosurgeon Keith L. Black removed a golf ball-sized meningioma brain tumor that was pushing on her facial nerves, Menounos continues to find inspiration from her mother’s battle.

“She has smiled through the whole thing,” Menounos says of Litsa, whose latest MRI shows her tumor is stable. “She’s always been positive. Always ‘I feel great,’ just a champ. My goal was just to be as happy and calm as possible because I didn’t want it to be hard on everybody. I really prayed, ‘Please God give me the strength that my mom had.’ Because she gave us that gift.”

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