30 Laws in 30 Days: Cervical cancer patient fights for statewide plan

Erica Frazier Stum, her husband, and 7-year-old son. Stum said her son was just 3 when she was diagnosed, and he knows more about cancer than anyone should. (family photo provided via TheStatehouseFile.com)
Katie Stancombe

INDIANAPOLIS (Statehouse File) – Erica Frazier Stum was diagnosed with cervical cancer at 27 years old. Despite surgery and intense chemotherapy, she has had three diagnoses of the disease with no end in sight.

“I will always have cancer,” said Stum, who is now 31. “I will have cancer until I die.”

At first, the young mother and wife was optimistic.

“When I was diagnosed I kind of felt like, ‘Okay, we’re going to do the surgery. It’s going to be quick and easy',” she said. “And the second time I was diagnosed I still had that mentality of, ‘We’re going to beat it, it’s going to be fine'.”

But the last reoccurrence brought a new realization.

“The third time I was diagnosed was the point that really made a difference,” Stum said. “I realized it was time to start living my life really intentionally for myself and my family.”

From that moment on, Stum made it her life’s mission to educate and empower women to advocate for themselves. That was when she started sharing her experience with other women, in hopes that they wouldn’t feel alone with their cancer.

“I think it’s really important to have support, especially here in Indiana,” Stum said. “We have about 300 women a year diagnosed with cervical cancer.”

Out of the 300 Hoosier women diagnosed, 100 of them will die each year.

With Erica Frazier Stum proudly standing behind him, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a law from the 2017 legislative session requiring a strategic plan to tackle Indiana’s mortality rate from cervical cancer. (photo courtesy the Office of the Governor)

Now the state is ready to create a plan to try to erase that number for good.

House Enrolled Act 1278, which goes into effect July 1, will require the State Department of Health to develop a strategic plan to tackle Indiana’s mortality rate from cervical cancer.

“It’s really important for us to come up with that strategic plan, including prevention, screening and vaccinations, so that we can reduce those numbers,” Stum said. “There are women dying of an almost completely preventable cancer, all the time, in Indiana.”

Goals for the strategic plan include identifying barriers to effective prevention, reviewing current technologies and best practices for screenings, and creating new partnerships to increase awareness of cervical cancer.

The State Department of Health will collaborate with clinics and universities from across the state, including the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research.

Joseph Irudayaraj, professor of biologic engineering at Purdue University, is currently working on a prototype test strip that could detect cervical cancer early on.

“We have a protein-based test that’s integrated with technology that has a very high level of sensitivity,” said Irudayaraj. “It’s as simple as a pregnancy test. The hope is that we can produce this cheaply and it can be routinely used for screening.”

Creating a strategic plan is critical, Irudayaraj said. Not only should clinics and universities be involved, but advocacy groups as well.

“I look forward to being part of discussions,” he said. “I very much look forward to working with some of the groups because I think everyone needs to play an active role.”

Both Stum and Irudayaraj agree that prevention is critical.

“The thing about cancer is the earlier you can detect it, the easier it is on the patient and the treatment is usually very highly successful,” Irudayaraj said.

The law requires the report be delivered to the governor and the General Assembly before the end of 2018.

“I think an effective strategic plan is going to include having educational information for women that help them find those signs and symptoms to watch for,” she said. “It makes them understand why it’s important to go see their doctor for that annual exam.”

As a woman who will struggle with cervical cancer for the rest of her life, Stum said if women find something concerning, they should make sure to speak up.

“When you get to be a mom, or you’ve got work and stuff going on, it’s easy to put your health on the back burner,” Stum said. “It’s just so important for women to put themselves first. Especially in situations where something can be prevented through that screening.”

This article is one in a series of stories produced by our partners at TheStatehouseFile.com – a news service powered by Franklin College – about new laws about to take effect, most of them on July 1.