"I don't ask how long I have and they don't tell me" said Erica Frazier Stum.
Stum is 32, a wife and a mother. Her son, Wylee, is 8-years-old.
"Obviously, I worry. He is in third grade. I might not make it to middle school, but there is no way to know. I know that cervical cancer is not going to kill me today or tomorrow. I'm in treatment just to continue my quality of life. We don't have an option to extend my life anymore, so eventually, I will die of this cancer."
Stum says she was 17-years-old when she had her first abnormal pap smear. Ten years later at 27-year-old Erica was diagnosed with a stage 1b cervical cancer. After treatment, Erica had two recurrences in as many years.
"That is when I started to really live my life intentionally, started advocating for women's health awareness. I knew it was time to live my life where I could make memories but also to make a difference in the community and let women know what they need to know for taking care of themselves. It took awhile to come to terms with...I wouldn't wish this on someone else" Stum said.
She says she copes by looking forward and by looking out for others.
Her journal contains letters for her family and her "Living Life List."
In the last year, she's accomplished most of her goals. She's surfed in Hawaii and went white water kayaking. She lobbied for more emphasis on cervical cancer prevention in Washington, D.C and the Indiana statehouse. She co-authored a book with Wylee, "Living Life with Mommy's Cancer." It's a the cancer experience through Wylee's eyes.
Here's an excerpt:
"My mommy told me today she has cancer, I don't know that word cancer, what does it mean I asked?
Mommy said that meant some of the cells in her body were not working right and it made her sick.
Mommy said one day her treatments will stop working.
We have to be sure and live our lives today. I spent amazing time with Mom.
Sometimes she is sick and doesn't feel good. I help her when she feels bad. I am ready to play when she feels good."
St. Vincent Dr. Maram says HPV vaccination for boys and girls prevent the cancer Stum is fighting. Also, regular Pap screens and Pelvic screenings can detect cervical cancer early, when cure rates are high.
"I hope not to see cases like Erica's. The worse thing is when we see these cases of young moms, people who have a full life and a family and then something is this debilitating to them. Its something that is preventable. The way we prevent them are just going into the doctor, getting the pap smear done and then following up on the results" Said said.
Erica says she doesn't waste time saying "what if?" Instead, she is looking ahead.
"I used to be afraid to make plans for the future and now I've just tried to embrace it. As long as I can keep doing those things, as long as I can, I will keep doing them."
The first shipment of her book is set to arrive next week...it has a happy ending.
"I know no matter what happens, it's ok, to be sad or happy or worried or confused. I know that everything will be ok."
Erica hopes by sharing her story, women will commit to an annual visit with an OBGYN. For Check Up 13 this month, a free pelvic exam and PAP Smear at St. Vincent is available for women 21 and older who have not had a PAP smear in the last year.
To register, call the hotline at 1-866-824-3251 or register online by clicking here by midnight, January 13, 2018.