Brooks Bell has literally been the name and face of an analytic digital marketing company she founded in Raleigh when she was 23 years old. Now at 38, she's taking a step back from her chief executive duties to battle this cancer that is not on the minds of most folks her age.
She wants to change that.
"I was traveling in San Francisco on business and one morning I noticed I had blood in my stool," she said about that day in November. She didn't ignore the symptoms.
After a Google search, she consulted with her doctor who suggested it was internal hemorrhoids, which is something she was able to laugh about over Thanksgiving dinner.
"I joked with my family actually here at this table that I was thankful that I had internal hemorrhoids rather than colon cancer," she said. "You know we have a weird sense of humor in the Bell family."
But after 6 weeks the symptoms remained.
Bell went for a second opinion. That doctor suggested hemorrhoids too. Then, a third physician finally suggested her condition was much more serious; insisting Bell come in for a colonoscopy.
"And (the doctor) was holding a picture of my colon and a picture of the tumor and it was obviously cancerous," she described. "You just don't ever expect to hear something like this. We were both stunned, saying I just can't believe I have colon cancer."
The last time we spoke on camera with Brooks Bell, was in the summer of 2016. She and her husband and fellow tech entrepreneur Jesse Lipson were selected to address the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Raleigh tech CEO, Brooks Bell, has a message for people under 50 who believe they aren’t at risk for colon cancer. She’s 38. She was diagnosed in January. pic.twitter.com/pyXjkDQnJN— Joel Brown (@JoelBrownABC11) March 12, 2019
Now, nearly three years later Bell is preparing to start chemotherapy. She has given up her day to day duties as CEO of Brooks Bell. "So that I can focus on my health and get fit and beat this cancer," she said. "It's hard. I mean this is literally my identity."
Along with a change in diet (Bell's a vegetarian now), she's also taking on a new cause.
She launched "Brooks Bell's Bullet Dodgers," an online campaign to enlist 50 people under 50 to go get colonoscopies. She wants to demystify the procedure by creating more conversation around colonoscopies - to say they are not a big deal and could just save your life.
Halfway to our goal! So far we've had 25 people join @brooksbell's bullet dodgers. Sign up to help send the message that colonoscopies are NBD and could even save your life. Learn more on our website: https://t.co/QETfE7Z7l5 pic.twitter.com/U9VoP73WT6— 50 Colonoscopies Under 50 (@50Colonoscopies) March 8, 2019
Brooks' main message is that colon cancer is not an old man's disease.
She has suggested started screenings between ages 30 and 35.
"I'm 38. If I had gotten screened three or four years ago, I would've been saved from this whole experience," she said.
Bell was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. She said it sounds worse than it is.
She said her surgery was successful this winter, and after she's done with chemotherapy, which begins next month, her survival rate should be somewhere in the 90 percent range.
She's taken the role as Executive Chairman at the company that bears her name. She made very clear she's still involved and will be returning to work.