n the spring of 2017, Maria Menounos’ life was sharply divided into two parts: before and after.
Until that point, Menounos, 40, had pushed herself to the limits hosting Access Hollywood and Extra; starring in her own reality show, Chasing Maria Menounos; and co-anchoring E! News. But her schedule came to a screeching halt when—while caring for her mother, who was battling a deadly brain tumor—Menounos was also diagnosed with a tumor in the membranes surrounding her brain. Although her tumor was benign, treating the meningioma required a nearly eight-hour surgery—and a challenging recovery.
“Before, I was an overachieving, frenetic, type A human doing,” Menounos says a year and a half later. “Now, I’m a human being who still achieves and likes to accomplish, but not to the detriment of my health or happiness.”
In honor of her appreciation for the nurses who helped her through that trying time, Menounos is partnering with Johnson & Johnson on its new Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge. The premise: Nurses across the U.S.—there are more than 3.2 million!—can submit their novel ideas for forward-thinking medical devices, health technologies, protocols and treatment approaches for a chance to receive up to $100,000 in grant funding, as well as access to mentoring and coaching through Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS, to help bring their idea to life.
Menounos, who currently hosts Conversations with Maria Menounos on SiriusXM, shared with us what being a patient taught her about the value of nurses—and how their smart thinking can help us all.
How did you come to be diagnosed with a brain tumor?
My mom was sick for over a year. We thought she was burnt out and just tired—but exhaustion, headaches and things that look like stress can mask a brain tumor.
I saw a lot of the symptoms in myself, but I didn’t realize it until I made time to go to the doctor because I had some ear pain. He said, “You don’t have an ear infection, but what else are you feeling?” I started rattling off the symptoms, and when I got to slurred speech, it hit me. My speech was slurring on set all the time. I would try to say something, and it would be like, “blplpldddplh." It would take me multiple takes to actually get words out of my mouth.
What happened next?
The doctor said, “Let’s get an MRI.” I remember my husband begrudgingly going with me, like, “What are we doing on a Friday night, getting an MRI? This is insane.” But the second I put on the hospital gown, I remember taking a picture in that room, and I was like, “This is the moment I become a patient, I know it.”
They asked me to get an MRI without contrasts, so I did. And when I came out of the machine, they were like, “I’m so sorry, but we have to put you back in and take it with contrasts ... because the radiologist saw something they want to check.” And I was like, “Yep, I’m a goner.” I walked out of there and said to my husband, “Honey, prepare yourself. Something’s really wrong.”
The surgery was four weeks later, on my birthday.
How did nurses play an important role in your care and recovery?
Nurses are absolute gems. They are the ones who are really there with you 24/7, helping you get better. I said to them, “I’ve never been treated better in my entire life.” I know it sounds messed up—because I’d just had major brain surgery, and it was really painful, and I couldn’t walk—but that’s how nice these nurses were.
I remember one nurse coming to prep me for surgery. The biggest thing I was worried about was the catheter. I’m very shy, and I was like, “Please don’t let everybody see me naked. I’m so embarrassed!” And she was like, “Girl, I got you—I had to have surgery, and my colleagues were the ones having to do this.” I was like, “Oh my gosh, you understand!”
I actually shed my first tears after my diagnosis in that moment. I was emotional because she was so compassionate—and I’ll never forget her for that. She could have easily been dismissive in that moment, because it’s routine for her. She honored my wishes, and I trusted her. I was so thankful, and I went in for surgery with a calm mentality because of her.
Nurses understand that everybody is an individual; it’s not one size fits all. They were on top of my medication before I would get to a place where I was in pain. They never made me feel bad for asking for an extra blanket. No task was too big or too small.
Nurses are on the front lines every day, so they see the need firsthand and can come up with a solution much faster than anybody else could. I know how much they've already innovated—from the nurse who realized a baby with jaundice could be healed with sunlight to the nurse who created crash carts.Share
Why do you think nurses are the right people to ask for new ideas to help address critical health challenges?
Nurses are on the front lines every day, so they see the need firsthand and can come up with a solution much faster than anybody else could. But many nurses haven’t been heard. We need to celebrate them.
That's why I’m really honored to partner with Johnson & Johnson on the Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge because nurses have played such a big role in my family’s life, and I know how integral they are to our healing. I also know how much they've already innovated—from the nurse who realized a baby with jaundice could be healed with sunlight to the nurse who created crash carts.
There are millions of ideas out there that could be changing people’s lives, and they just need a little help to be shepherded to fruition.
How can everyone do their part to support nurses?
We need to treat nurses like gold. A nurse deals with death and people in pain and suffering every day. They’re not dealing with people who are like, “Hi! How was your day?” It’s not a Sunshine Committee for them.
So I find my job is to be that brightness for them—to be kind and appreciative, knowing what they’re going through on a day-to-day basis. You get what you give, right? So if you give nurses kindness and compassion, you’re going to get that times 10.