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Experimental cancer treatment gives New Jersey mom a chance for a second baby: ‘I decided to go for it’

todayMay 12, 2024

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A New Jersey mom had just given birth when she received a life-changing cancer diagnosis — and her biggest fear was she wouldn’t be able to have more children.When Kelly Spill first started experiencing bleeding, her doctors chalked it up to pregnancy and childbirth, especially given her young age of 28.But then came the weight loss, fatigue and loss of appetite. “I knew deep down that it was cancer,” she told Fox News Digital.TRAGIC CANCER LOSS INSPIRES NEW YORK TECH ENTREPRENEUR TO ADDRESS ‘URGENT MEDICAL NEED’After a colonoscopy, Spill’s fears were confirmed: She had stage 3 colorectal cancer. Her baby boy, Chase Bonito, was just a month old.The original plan was to check out three hospitals to get treatment options and gauge their level of comfort, she said.The first stop, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, ended up being their last.”They checked all the boxes,” Spill said.”The original plan was to get chemotherapy, radiation and surgery,” Spill told Fox News Digital. “But that would have meant I would most likely never be able to carry another baby again — and that’s really hard to hear at just 28 years old,” she said.Traditional cancer treatments are known to impact a woman’s ability to have children, according to Amanda Schwer, M.D., a radiation oncologist at City of Hope Orange County Lennar Foundation Cancer Center in Irvine, California.”Radiation targeted at, or absorbed by, a woman’s reproductive organs can affect fertility, as can chemotherapy, which may cause women to lose fertility-related hormones,” Schwer, who was not involved in Spill’s care, told Fox News Digital. Madhu Shetti, a radiation oncologist and founder of skincare company Balmere in California, noted that certain chemotherapy drugs can shift the hormone levels in a pre-menopausal woman into menopause, making it difficult to conceive a child.”Ultimately, every woman should speak with her care team to understand her individual risks, benefits and alternatives,” said Shetti, who did not treat Spill, in a statement to Fox News Digital.Just before she scheduled her first day of chemo, Spill was presented with a new treatment path.Based on her biopsies, doctors told Spill she was a match for a new clinical trial run by the SU2C Colorectal Cancer Dream Team, a research team at Memorial Sloan that is committed to improving access to alternative cancer care.WHAT IS COLORECTAL CANCER? SIGNS, SYMPTOMS, RISKS AND MORE OF THE GLOBAL HEALTH CONCERNThe trial would test an immunotherapy drug — dostarlimab — as a first-line treatment in lieu of grueling rounds of chemo, radiation and surgery. “All I knew at that time was that the side effects of this immunotherapy would be a lot less harsh on my body than chemotherapy, and I would have a chance of a better quality of life — and maybe even another baby,” Spill said.Immunotherapy works by activating the patient’s own immune system to attack the cancer cells, Schwer said. “It is an important cancer treatment breakthrough and there have been many advancements in this field,” she said. WHY IMMUNOTHERAPY IS EMERGING AS THE ‘FOURTH PILLAR’ OF CANCER TREATMENTS, EXPERTS SAY”However, it is still evolving. We know that immunotherapy success rates may differ, and not every patient responds or has a lasting response to it.”Age, lifestyle factors and other existing medical conditions can all impact the effectiveness of immunotherapy treatments, Schwer added. “Genetic testing may help detect treatments that are more effective for patients, but more research is still needed in this field.”After talking with her care team and weighing the risks and potential benefits, Spill decided to proceed with the clinical trial.”I decided to go for it. For me, it was all about timing.”Spill was just the fourth person in the country to participate in the trial. She received dostarlimab via infusion every three weeks for six months.Although side effects are a possibility with immunotherapy, Spill said she only experienced fatigue — “which sometimes I think it was mostly from motherhood.” At her fourth treatment, Spill was told that her tumor had shrunk in half. “By the ninth treatment, my tumor had completely disappeared, which was extremely exciting,” she said.Before starting treatment, Spill and her husband had frozen some embryos as a safety measure. After she was declared cancer-free, her first desire was to become pregnant again.PATIENTS WITH METASTATIC COLORECTAL CANCER COULD FIND HOPE IN NEW FDA-APPROVED TREATMENT”But my doctor advised me to wait at least two years, because if the cancer was going to come back, it would most likely be in that time frame,” Spill said.That was difficult for her to hear, she said — but now she sees it as a smart decision.”One of the hardest parts about cancer is coming out of survival mode, and realizing you’re a human again and taking on life again,” Spill said.During those two years of waiting, she took some emotional intelligence courses to help her process what she had been through.”I came out a much better person than who I was prior,” Spill said.In July 2023, she gave birth to her second child, a healthy baby girl.”Her name is Maya Grace, and she’s an angel,” she told Fox News Digital.IN POTENTIAL CANCER BREAKTHROUGH, NEWLY FOUND ‘KILL SWITCH’ TRIGGERS DEATH OF CANCER CELLS: ‘ONE-TWO PUNCH’Today, Spill remains cancer-free. She has gone in for scans and biopsies every six months, and just got the approval to move to yearly scans. Spill and her husband are already talking about a third baby, she shared.To others facing a new diagnosis, Spill’s advice is to “feel your feelings.””Feel anything that you are feeling at that time, because it’s important,” she said. “It helps you understand what you are going through.”Spill also emphasizes the importance of being your own advocate.”You don’t like an answer? Keep searching. You know your body best.”CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP FOR OUR HEALTH NEWSLETTERAnyone who is interested in exploring immunotherapy should consult with their health care provider, experts advise.”It is important to speak with your oncologist to understand your individual risks, benefits and alternatives,” said Shetti.Women who are considering having children should ask their provider about the potential impact of any treatment, added Schwer.”If you are facing cancer, thinking about starting or growing a family right now can add to the sense of feeling overwhelmed,” she told Fox News Digital. “Remember, you are not alone — and you will benefit from talking to your physician about your concerns and the fertility preservation options that are best for you.”For more Health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health.

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