I Miss Her Everyday

Erica’s death was a day that I knew would come but it hit me harder than anything I could have ever imagined. Erica and I also prepared Wylee for that day and days after Mommy dies.

Erica believed in Living Life despite her diagnosis. That spilled over to her family life and she made sure that Wylee had his own incredible experiences and adventures — even at such a young age. We started him with counseling five years ago, but not just sitting on a couch talking about feelings. We were going out and living life, taking on new adventures and challenges. One of Wylee’s first solo adventures would be at Camp Kesem three years ago.

Camp Kesem is a youth camp for campers who have parents suffering with cancer. Wylee had just turned eight and had only slept over at family members houses. This camp was a five-day over-night camp where members of Ball State University are camp counselors. Erica and I have nicknames from our First Descents trip, an adult cancer camp, so Wylee was accustomed to the nicknaming process and after persuasion he finally went with Coyote!  

The Coyote that showed up at camp three years ago was so nervous but the Coyote I dropped off this week is so strong. He lives by the motto from his book, Living Life with Mommy’s Cancer, that “Everything Will Be Okay.” 

Before this camp, I had now had the parental responsibility that would normally default to Mommy. I went through the packing list with him. I went to the store and bought all the things — flashlight, bug spray, swim gear, clothes and of course crazy socks! Erica would be so proud! I invested a lot more into this week than I normally do. It meant so much to me that Coyote was going to be surrounded by love, surrounded by other children that understand and that he could feel comfortable to have conversations that his school friends just don’t understand. 

When I dropped Wylee off, I became teary eyed for the first time. If you knew Erica, she didn’t really cry. She never really seemed vulnerable and more often than not was controlling the situation or supporting someone else. I miss her. 

I think about Erica all the time. I notice it most when I want to tell her about my day or to see what dinner plans we have. I notice even more when I don’t have something planned for an upcoming weekend. I miss her checking in with her friends Tamika, Tripps and Hugo. Getting the skinny on their lives and what they are up to. That person that I loved and slept next to every night is gone but my memories of her have not faded. I love and will always love Erica Lee. The presence she left are visible within our son, Wylee. He has her blue eyes, her smile and wit. Her legacy will continue on with the gifts she has bestowed upon me.

Erica may be gone, but I see her everyday in Wylee and it’s how I know that everything will be okay.

JR Stum is a Cervivor supporter who lives in Indiana. He is often proudly sporting his Cervivor shades around town. JR honors his late wife, Erica, by sharing her story as often as possible and making sure that he and Wylee are out there Living Life.

Emotional Ups & Downs

I am not a crier.  Never was.  My sister is a crier. We can’t even mention the movie Up without her breaking in to tears for 30 min.  And just forget about mentioning any movie where a dog dies.  In fact, she is probably crying just reading these sentences! (I love you baby sister!).

But, not me.  I never cried at movies, cards or commercials.  In fact, I balked at those who did.  I considered people who were so sentimental and empathetic, weak.

I am not a crier.  Never was.  My sister is a crier. We can’t even mention the movie Up without her breaking in to tears for 30 min.  And just forget about mentioning any movie where a dog dies.  In fact, she is probably crying just reading these sentences! (I love you baby sister!).

Enter Cancer.

After caner I can’t watch any movie where anyone dies of cancer.  Not a mother  Not a child.  Not a dog.  In fact, I can’t watch movies where anyone dies, period.  It send me in to a panic attack that can last for days.

After cancer everything feels risky.  Traveling anywhere, forget internationally, and even short domestic trips.  Driving fast.  Sometimes even just leaving the house for a dinner out or a night with friends.  After cancer there are many days were I just want to cocoon up in my bed under the covers because that is the only place I feel safe. Every accident on the side of the road, every news story about a shooting, every Amber Alert, every Facebook post asking for prayers, I feel like it is happening to me.

After cancer I feel so much empathy for others going through trauma that it can be completely overwhelming and draining.  I feel the pain of a death or a recurrence from cancer deep in my hear..  It is a stabbing, throbbing pain that cuts me to my core.  I feel the pain of a mother taking her child to the ER as a tightening in my chest that can take days to subside.  

After cancer I am a crier.  I cry at movies and tv shows.  I cry at Facebook posts and on the phone with friends.  I have probably cried more in the 2 1/2 years after cancer than I did in the 36 years leading up to it.  It feels unnatural to me.  Like I am being a wimp or not being strong.  But I know that’s not true and that this is who I am now.  I am a much more sympathetic and empathetic person after cancer.

This empathy is for both the trials of friends, family and even strangers, but it is also for their joys and triumphs.  I cry when I see my kids up on a stage during a performance.  I cried when I watched my sister walk down the aisle.  I cry when a coworker celebrates good news.  Cancer intensified all of my emotions, the good and the bad.

Feeling so many emotions for both myself and for others can be draining and it has also forced me to sometimes shield myself from others.  There are days when I have to take a break from social media or phone calls and texts because I just can’t “feel” any more.  There are days that I know I can’t show up for a party or a girls night out or a family dinner because I am overwhelmed with feelings.  I need to give my brain, my body and my heart a break, from both the bad news and the good news.  

The highs after cancer are even higher and the lows after cancer are even lower, and this constant pendulum swing can take a toll on even the strongest person.  Be kind to yourself, during the highs and the lows.

Ana is a stage II cervical adenocarcinoma survivor & Cervivor Ambassador.  She lives in Mountain View, CA with her fiancé and two children. She is excited to take on a new job next year as the Dean of Greene Middle School and enjoys spending time with her family and being an advocate for the HPV vaccine.