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I thought my bloody stool during pregnancy was hemorrhoids. It was stage 3 colorectal cancer.

Woman with baby
Kelly Spill was diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer at the age of 32.Courtesy of Kelly Spill
  • Kelly Spill, 32, noticed blood in her stool when she was pregnant.

  • Multiple doctors told her it was internal hemorrhoids.

  • When her son was 8 months old, she was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Kelly Spill. It has been edited for length and clarity.

At eight months pregnant with my son, Jayce, I felt like everything in my body was changing. So, when I noticed blood in my stool and started experiencing constipation, I wasn't too worried. I mentioned it to my doctor, but she told me it was normal. I had no idea what was going on in my body at that point, so I took her word for it.

After Jayce was born, I started feeling really bad. The bleeding and constipation continued, so I requested a second postpartum checkup. A different OB/GYN said I likely had internal hemorrhoids.

I was a new mom and planning to relocate from California to New Jersey to be closer to my family. I pushed my health concerns aside to focus on the move.

I had to go to the ER after filling the toilet with blood

Once I was settled on the East Coast, I started feeling even worse. I had no appetite and lost 10 pounds, which was significant for me. Because of the move and job changes, I didn't have good health insurance, so going to the doctor was difficult.

One day, I used the bathroom, and there was so much blood that it looked like I had my period — but I didn't. I took a photo and sent it to my mom, who told me to go to the emergency room. There, doctors again told me it was hemorrhoids and suggested I lay off the spicy food.

Finally, I got my insurance sorted and saw a new doctor. At the clinic, a nurse gave me advice that might have saved my life. She said, "If you don't find your answers here and you still don't feel well, keep searching because you know your body best." That was so validating when people — doctors — were blowing off my concerns as soon as they heard I was a new mom.

I was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer, and needed fertility treatments

Finally, I found a doctor who took me seriously and ordered a colonoscopy. Shortly after I saw a specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center who diagnosed me with stage 3 colorectal cancer. Jayce was 8 months old.

Not only was I facing a terrifying diagnosis, but the doctor immediately started talking about my fertility. I was only 28, but the protocol of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery would likely leave me unable to conceive. I knew I wanted more kids, but talking about fertility right after being diagnosed with cancer was overwhelming.

I felt pummeled physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. And this hadn't even really started.

At the last minute, I chose a clinical trial that could preserve my fertility

On the doctor's advice, I underwent fertility treatments and an egg retrieval soon after I was diagnosed and before treatment started. That was truly the worst part of this experience. Having swollen, bloated ovaries near my tumor was incredibly painful. But my husband and I ended up with four embryos — hope for the future family we envisioned.

The day I was set to begin treatment, a research nurse came in and explained I was eligible for a clinical trial run by Stand Up to Cancer and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. It would use immunotherapy to treat colorectal cancer. Only three other people had the treatment. If it worked, it could cure my cancer while preserving my fertility. If I didn't, we'd go back to the typical treatment plan of chemo, radiation, and surgery.

I said yes right away. By the second treatment, I was feeling so much better. By the ninth and final treatment, my tumor was gone. In August, I learned I wouldn't need radiation or surgery because I didn't have cancer anymore. That was the best day of my life.

I got pregnant using the embryos I created before treatment

I wanted to get pregnant immediately. I left an appointment in tears after doctors explained I should wait two years while I was at the highest risk of relapse. I used those two years to process everything that had happened to me: becoming a mom, cancer patient, then survivor all at once.

When I was cleared to get pregnant, I knew we could try to conceive naturally. Yet I had worked so hard for those embryos I was determined to use them. That led to my daughter, Maya, who was born in 2023.

I want more kids in the future, and I would like to try to get pregnant the old-fashioned way. I'm so incredibly grateful for the nurse who told me to advocate for myself, the doctor who guided me to fertility treatments, and the research nurse who connected me with the clinical trial. They saved not only me but my family too.

Read the original article on Business Insider