06/21/2007 at 02:00 PM EDT
She promised herself she wouldn't cry, but Maria Menounos couldn't keep her
emotions in check speaking at a Congressional forum on diabetes on Tuesday.
"I was really not expecting to get emotional – there's no crying on Capital
Hill," the actress and Today show correspondent said through tears at a National Changing Diabetes Program briefing.
But for Menounos, the cause is personal. Her father, Constantinos, 62, is one
of the 20 million Americans who suffers from the disease.
"My dad has been type-1 diabetic for 40 years," she told the Congressional forum. "So my entire life all I've known is diabetes and how to manage and how to care for him."
Of talking about the disease at the forum, Menounos said in her remarks: "I couldn't control the emotions that kind of spilled out. It takes a very big emotional toll on families."
Menounos, an ambassador for the Entertainment Industry Foundation's Diabetes Aware campaign, says the cause is something she plans to keep fighting for. "My dad had many brushes with death, and I don't want other people to have to suffer."
Menounos also met with congressmen to discuss federal funding for diabetes prevention. "I am inspired for sufferers like my father, who has suffered from diabetes for 40 years," she told PEOPLE, "as well as other families affected by the disease."