Becoming A Parent After Cancer Treatment
- After about a decade of struggling with fertility, TV personality Maria Menounos has recounted how it felt to learn she was expecting a baby girl via a surrogate with her husband Keven Undergaro.
- Menounos offered some insight on this matter in a recent episode of Dear Media’s “Not Skinny But Not Fat” podcast with host Amanda Hirsch.
- The TV host’s podcast interview comes after she recently went public about her battle with stage two pancreatic cancer, following her 2017 brain tumor scare, her mom's passing from brain cancer, and her fertility struggles.
- In an earlier interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Jaime Knopman said time was precious when dealing with fertility preservation for women with cancer. Basically, the sooner the better when it comes to having these important fertility conversations with your doctor.
- In some cases after cancer treatment, women may have difficulty giving birth to a child or they may be unable to at all. Having someone else carry their baby, like Menounos, may be an option, either through surrogacy or a gestational carrier.
The Greek-American journalist and Medford, Massachusetts, native offered fans more insight this week into what she’s overcome and how happy she was when she learned she would be having a baby.Read More
“At that point, it was two centimeters, and then by the time they found it, it was almost four centimeters. It had doubled in size in two months.”
When asked how it feels to have started talking about everything she went through, Menounos explained,” It was last minute because it’s been secret. So imagine having to do all of this in secret. It’s been very lonely very hard.”
Noting how she had been posting normally on social media, “pretending,” she added, “At the same time I was starting to feel better, and I finally called my publicist and I said, ‘I can’t hide anymore. … I need to be able to let this out because it’s not healthy to hold it in anymore.'”
Menounoswho shared a video clip from the podcast, which was uploaded on Apple Podcasts this week, on her Instagram page, recalled thinking”‘It’s not healthy anymore. And I’m looking at my calendar, and with travel and a baby coming – this is the moment, so we just got to do it right now.’
“So we did, we called People magazine and I told the story. Funny enough, that’s when it became really real for me when I started talking about it.”
Maria Menounos' Fertility Struggles & Surrogacy
Maria Menounos had been struggling with starting a family before announcing she was expecting a daughter with her husband this year.
Back in 2021, in an interview with TODAY, the TV host said, “I lost my mom, we lost our dog and then losing the surrogate was a loss. Trying to have kids in the midst of that would have been a lot. And so we believe that it's God protecting us. And it's going to happen at that right time.”
Menounos had been on the hunt for a surrogate and at one point had found one she liked, but things didn't work out.
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“We had an amazing surrogate and we loved her,” she told the news outlet. “But our fertility doctor told us that it was never going to work. We tried and tried and tried and tried.”
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Menounos explained that she and her husband were trying to remain hopeful despite the long process of finding the right surrogate.
“I'm going to have to continue to go with the flow and trust that God has a plan for me. I just got to surrender to it. I've gotten pretty good at it,” she said.
“That was a big thing I've learned along the way. If you believe there's a plan for you whether it's the universe or god, you have to go through the motions; you have to do things that make sense: you got to go work, you got to do all these things. It's like no matter what we do, sometimes the things that we want is just not the right time. Everything has its season and its moments.”
However, Menounos remained positive, kept her faith, and didn't give up, leading her to where she is today, expecting her daughter via a surrogate.
In an interview earlier with PEOPLE this year, Menounos said, “We are so grateful to the beautiful family helping us conceive our baby. Keven, my dad, and I are all beyond excited for this soul to come into our lives. What a blessing.”
Menounos, who received help from Family Match Consulting and started IVF treatments back in 2012, told People in 2022, “I definitely didn't think it was going to take this long. It's been years. We've used different services, different people. It's just been a very frustrating process.”
IVF stands for in vitro fertilization, a process in which a woman's eggs are retrieved from her body and fertilized with sperm in a lab. The embryo can then be implanted into the mother or a surrogate.
Maria Menounos’ Health Challenges
Last month was the first time Maria Menounos went public about her battle with stage two pancreatic cancer, following her 2017 brain tumor scare, her mom's passing from brain cancer, and her fertility struggles.
Leading up to her pancreatic cancer diagnosis, Menounos, who has hosted "Extra" and "E! News," began suffering from major leg cramps in June 2022, a symptom which resulted in her going to the hospital, where she learned she had type 1 diabetes (something both her dad and younger brother also have).
Her diabetes diagnosis then led her to be prescribed insulin and change her diet, which left her feeling better by October.
However, in November 2022, she ended up back in the hospital with "excruciating abdominal pain" and "diarrhea." Despite what she was experiencing, doctors told her everything was "fine" with her body, but weeks later, she began feeling as if "someone was tearing my insides out."
A whole-body MRI and a biopsy revealed she had a stage 2 pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor, a type of cancer that forms in the pancreas, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Thankfully, due to Menounos' cancer being discovered somewhat early, she was able to get the tumor, her spleen, part of her pancreas, 17 lymph nodes, and a large fibroid removed via surgery on Feb. 16 of this year.
Additionally, her doctor and surgeon said she will not need to undergo chemotherapy or other forms of treatment.
Menounos, who must continue getting yearly scans for the next five years, said on social media that there were some "tough days," but she was "grateful" for the good ones and being able to overcome cancer.
"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," she said.
Meanwhile, Menounos' mom, Litsa Menounos, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, one of the most common and most aggressive brain cancers, back in 2016 when she was 61 years old.
While Menounos was caring for her mother, she began noticing strange symptoms like ear pain, dizziness, and blurred vision. She told her mother's doctor, thinking she was crazy that she was having similar issues.
But following an MRI, they discovered a golf ball-sized benign (non-cancerous) tumor in Maria's brain.
Menounos ultimately underwent a 7-hour brain surgery on her 39th birthday in June 2017. And in May 2021, her mom passed from brain cancer.
Fertility and Cancer Treatment
Infertility can be a side effect of some cancer treatments, but there are options to consider. Fertility preservation, for example, is available to women of childbearing age. Options for women include:
- Egg and embryo freezing (the most common practice)
- Ovarian tissue freezing
- Ovarian suppression to prevent the eggs from maturing so that they cannot be damaged during treatment.
- Ovarian transposition, for women getting radiation to the pelvis, to move the ovaries out of the line of treatment.
No matter what course of action you choose to take, it is important that all women feel comfortable talking about their options prior to cancer treatment.
In an earlier interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Jaime Knopman said time was precious when dealing with fertility preservation for women with cancer. Basically, the sooner the better when it comes to having these important fertility conversations with your doctor.
“The sooner we start, the sooner that patient can then go on and do their treatment," Dr. Knopman said. "A lot of the success comes down to how old you are at the time you froze and the quality of the lab in which your eggs or embryos are frozen in.”
Surrogacy and Gestational Carriers
In some cases after cancer treatment, women may have difficulty giving birth to a child or they may be unable to at all. Having someone else carry their baby may be an option, either through surrogacy or a gestational carrier.
According to the National Cancer Institute, a surrogate pregnancy is “a type of pregnancy in which a woman carries and gives birth to a baby for a person who is not able to have children.”
“In a surrogate pregnancy, eggs from the woman who will carry the baby or from an egg donor are fertilized with sperm from a sperm donor to make an embryo,” the institute explains.
“The embryo is implanted in the uterus of the surrogate mother, who carries the baby until birth. Surrogate pregnancy may be an option for men or women who want to have children and have had certain anticancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, that can cause infertility.”
As for a gestational carrier, the institute describes this person as a “woman who carries and gives birth to a baby for a person who is not able to have children.”
“Eggs from an egg donor are fertilized in the laboratory with sperm from a sperm donor to make an embryo. The embryo is implanted in the uterus of the gestational surrogate, who carries the baby until birth. The gestational surrogate (or carrier) is not genetically related to the baby and is not the biological mother."
If you or someone you know is deciding on whether or not to go the route of surrogacy or gestational carrier, it's important to know that each state has different laws and it may be necessary to speak with an attorney before moving forward.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
If you're facing cancer treatment and wondering about your fertility preservation options, here are some questions you may consider asking your doctor:
- How do you expect my treatment to affect my fertility?
- Are there specialists I can talk to about my fertility preservation options?
- Is it safe for me to preserve my fertility before treatment?
- What resources are available to help me pay for fertility preservation?
- What mental health resources are available to help me cope with this?
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff